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In the Dozy Hours 1 

A Kitten 16 

At the Novelist's Table 32 

In Behalf of Parents 42 

aut caesar, aut nlhil 60 

A Note on Mirrors 76 

Gifts 85 

Humor : English and American ... 94 

The Discomforts of Luxury : A Speculation .112 

Lectures 123 

Reviewers and Reviewed 137 

Pastels : A Query 153 

Guests 158 

Sympathy 165 

Opinions 176 

The Children's Age 190 

A Forgotten Poet 201 

Dialogues 211 

A Curious Contention 217 

The Passing of the Essay 226 



"Montaigne and Howell's letters," says 
Thackeray, " are my bedside books. If I wake 
at night, I have one or other of them to prat- 
tle me to sleep again. They talk about them- 
selves forever, and don't weary me. I like to 
hear them tell their old stories over and over 
again. I read them in the dozy hours, and 
only half remember them." 

In the frank veracity of this last confession 
there lies a pleasant truth which it is whole- 
some to hear from such excellent and undis- 
puted authority. Many people have told us 
about the advantage of remembering what we 
read, and have imparted severe counsels as to 
ways and means. Thackeray and Charles 
Lamb alone have ventured to hint at the equal 
delight of forgetting, and of returning to some 
well-loved volume with recollections softened 


into an agreeable haze. Lamb, indeed, with 
characteristic impatience, sighed for the waters 
of Lethe that he might have more than his 
due ; that he might grasp a doable portion of 
those serene pleasures of which his was no 
niggardly share. " I feel as if I had read all 
the books I want to read," he wrote disconso- 
lately to Bernard Barton. " Oh ! to forget 
Fielding, Steele, etc., and read 'em new! ' : 

This is a wistful fancy in which many of us 
have had our share. There come moments of 
doubt and discontent when even a fresh novel 
fills us with shivery apprehensions. We pick 
it up reluctantly, and look at it askance, as 
though it were a dose of wholesome medicine. 
We linger sadly for a moment on the brink ; 
and then, warm in our hearts, comes the mem- 
ory of happier hours when we first read " Guy 
Mannering," or "The Scarlet Letter," or "Per- 
suasion ; " when we first forgot the world in 
" David Copperfield," or raced at headlong 
speed, with tingling veins and bated breath, 
through the marvelous " Woman in White." 
Alas ! why were we so ravenous in our youth ? 
Like the Prodigal Son, we consumed all our 
fortune in a few short years, and now the 


husks, though very excellent husks indeed, and 
highly recommended for their nourishing and 
stimulating qualities by the critic doctors of 
the day, seem to our jaded tastes a trifle dry 
and savorless. If only we could forget the 
old, beloved books, and "read 'em new"! 
With many this is not possible, for the impres- 
sion which they make is too vivid to be oblit- 
erated, or even softened, by time. We may 
re-read them, if we choose. We do re-read 
them often, for the sake of lingering repeatedly 
over each familiar page, but we can never 
" read 'em new." The thrill of anticipation, 
the joyous pursuit, the sustained interest, the 
final satisfaction, — all these sensations of de- 
light belong to our earliest acquaintance with 
literature. They are part of the sunshine 
which gilds the halcyon days of youth. 

But other books there be, — and it is well 
for us that this is so, — whose tranquil mission 
is to soothe our grayer years. These faithful 
comrades are the " bedside " friends whom 
Thackeray loved, to whom he returned night 
after night in the dozy hours, and in whose 
generous companionship he found respite from 
the fretful cares of dav. These are the vol- 


umes which should stand on a sacred shelf 
apart, and over them a bust of Hermes, god of 
good dreams and quiet slumbers, whom the 
wise ancients honored soberly, as having the 
best of all guerdons in his keeping. As for 
the company on that shelf, there is room and 
to spare for poets, and novelists, and letter- 
writers ; room for those " large, still books " 
so dear to Tennyson's soul, and for essays, and 
gossipy memoirs, and gentle, old-time manuals 
of devotion, and ghost lore, untainted by mod- 
ern research, and for the " lying, readable 
histories," which grow every year rarer and 
more beloved. There is no room for self-con- 
scious realism picking its little steps along ; nor 
for socialistic dramas, hot with sin ; nor ethical 
problems, disguised as stories ; nor " heroes of 
complex, psychological interest," whatever they 
may mean ; nor inarticulate verse ; nor angry, 
anarchical reformers ; nor dismal records of 
vice and disease parading in the covers of a 
novel. These things are all admirable in their 
way, but they are not the books which the 
calm Hermes takes under his benign protec- 
tion. Dull, even, they may be, and provoca- 
tive of slumber ; but the road to fair dreams 


lies now, as in the days of the heroes, through 
the shining portals of ivory. 

Montaigne and James Howell, then, were 
Thackeray's bedside favorites, — " the Peri- 
gourdin gentleman, and the priggish little 
clerk of King Charles's Council;" and with 
these two " dear old friends " he whiled away 
many a midnight hour. The charm of both 
lay, perhaps, not merely in their diverting gos- 
sip, nor in their wide acquaintance with men 
and life, but in their serene and enviable un- 
contentiousness. Both knew how to follow the 
sagacious counsel of Marcus Aurelius, and 
save themselves a world of trouble by having 
no opinions on a great variety of subjects. 
" I seldom consult others," writes Montaigne 
placidly, " and am seldom attended to ; and I 
know no concern, either public or private, 
which has been mended or bettered by my ad- 
vice." Ah ! what a man was there ! What a 
friend to have and to hold ! What a courtier, 
and what a country gentleman ! It is pleasant 
to think that this embodiment of genial toler- 
ance was a contemporary of John Calvin's ; 
that this fine scholar, to whom a few books 
were as good as many, lived unf retted by the 


angry turbulence of men all bent on pulling 
the world in their own narrow paths. What 
wonder that Thackeray forgave him many sins 
for the sake of his leisurely charm and wise 
philosophy ! In fact, James Howell, the " prig- 
gish little clerk," was not withheld by his prig- 
gishness from relating a host of things which 
are hardly fit to hear. Those were not reti- 
cent days, and men wrote freely about matters 
which it is perhaps as healthy and as agreeable 
to let alone. But Howell was nevertheless a 
sincere Churchman as well as a sincere Roy- 
alist. He was sound throughout; and if he 
lacked the genius and the philosophy of Mon- 
taigne, he was his equal in worldly knowledge 
and in tolerant good temper. He heard, en- 
joyed, and repeated all the gossip of foreign 
courts, all the " severe jests " which passed 
from lip to lip. He loved the beauty of Italy, 
the wit of France, the spirit of the Netherlands, 
and the valor of Spain. The first handsome 
woman that earth ever saw, he tells us, was 
made of Venice glass, as beautiful and as brit- 
tle as are her descendants to-day. Moreover, 
" Eve spake Italian, when Adam was seduced ; " 
for in that beguiling tongue, in those soft, per- 


suasive accents, she felt herself to be most ir- 

There is really, as Thackeray well knew, a 
great deal of pleasing information to be gath- 
ered from the " Familiar Letters," and no 
pedagogic pride, no spirit of carping criticism, 
mars their delightful flavor. The more won- 
derful the tale, the more serene the composure 
with which it is narrated. Howell sees in 
Holland a church monument " where an earl 
and a lady are engraven, with three hundred 
and sixty-five children about them, which were 
all delivered at one birth." Nay, more, he 
sees " the two basins in which they were chris- 
tened, and the bishop's name who did it, not 
yet two hundred years ago ; " so what reason- 
able room is left for doubt? He tells us the 
well-authenticated story of the bird with a 
white breast which visited every member of 
the Oxenham family immediately before death ; 
and also the "choice history" of Captain 
Coucy, who, dying in Hungary, sent his heart 
back to France, as a gift to his own true love. 
She, however, had been forced by her father 
into a reluctant and unhappy marriage ; and 
her husband, intercepting the token, had it 


cooked into a " well-relished dish/' which he 
persuaded his wife to eat. When she had 
obeyed, he told her, in cruel sport, the ghastly- 
nature of the food ; but she, " in a sudden ex- 
altation of joy, and with a f ar-fetch'd sigh, 
cried, ' This is a precious cordial indeed,' and 
so lick'd the dish, saying, ' It is so precious that 
't is pity to put ever any meat upon it.' So 
she went to her chamber, and in the morning 
she was found stone dead." Did ever rueful 
tale have such triumphant ending ? 

Of other letter-writers, Charles Lamb and 
Madame de Sevigne are perhaps best suited 
for our dozy hours, because they are sure to 
put us into a good and amiable frame of mind, 
fit for fair slumber and the ivory gates. More- 
over, the bulk of Madame de Sevigne's cor- 
respondence is so great that, unless we have 
been very faithful and constant readers, we are 
likely to open into something which is new to 
us ; and as for Lamb, those who love him at 
all love him so well that it matters little which 
of his letters they read, or how often they have 
read them before. Only it is best to select 
those written in the meridian of his life. The 
earlier ones are too painful, the later ones too 


sad. Let us take liim at his happiest, and be 
happy with him for an hour ; for, unless we go 
cheerfully to bed, the portals of horn open for 
us with sullen murmur, and fretful dreams, 
more disquieting than even the troubled 
thoughts of day, flit batlike round our melan- 
choly pillows. 

Miss Austen is likewise the best of mid- 
night friends. There stand her novels, few in 
number and shabby with much handling, and 
the god Hermes smiles upon them kindly. 
We have known them well for years. There 
is no fresh nook to be explored, no forgotten 
page to be revisited. But we will take one 
down, and re-read for the fiftieth time the his- 
tory of the theatricals at Mansfield Park ; and 
see Mr. Yates ranting by himself in the dining- 
room, and the indefatigable lovers rehearsing 
amorously on the stage, and poor Mr. Rush- 
worth stumbling through his two-and-forty 
speeches, and Fanny Price, in the chilly little 
schoolroom, listening disconsolately as her 
cousin Edmund and Mary Crawford go through 
their parts with more spirit and animation than 
the occasion seems to demand. When Sir 
Thomas returns, most inopportunely, from 


Antigua, we lay down the book with a sigh of 
gentle satisfaction, knowing that we shall find 
all these people in the morning just where 
they belong, and not, after the fashion of 
some modern novels, spirited overnight to the 
antipodes, with a breakneck gap of months or 
years to be spanned by our drooping imagina- 
tions. Sir Walter Scott tells us, with tacit 
approbation, of an old lady who always had 
Sir Charles Grandison read to her when she 
felt drowsy ; because, should she fall asleep 
and waken up again, she would lose nothing 
of the story, but would find the characters 
just where she had left them, " conversing in 
the cedar-parlour." It would be possible to 
take a refreshing nap — did our sympathy al- 
low us such an alleviation — while Clarissa 
Harlowe is writing, on some tiny scraps of 
hidden paper, letters which fill a dozen printed 

Lovers of George Borrow are wont to claim 
that he is one of the choicest of bedside com- 
rades. Mr. Birrell, indeed, stoutly maintains 
that slumber, healthy and calm, follows the 
reading of his books just as it follows a brisk 
walk or rattling drive. " A single chapter of 


Borrow is air and exercise." Neither need 
we be very wide awake when we skim over his 
pages. He can be read with half -closed eyes, 
and we feel his stir and animation pleasantly 
from without, just as we feel the motion of a 
carriage when we are heavy with sleep. Pea- 
cock is too clever, and his cleverness has too 
much meaning and emphasis for this lazy de- 
light. Yet, nevertheless, "The Misfortunes 
of Elphin" is an engaging book to re-read — 
if one knows it well already — in moments of 
drowsy satisfaction. Then will the convivial 
humor of " Seithenyn ap Seithyn " awake a 
sympathetic echo in our hearts, shorn for the 
nonce of all moral responsibility. Then will 
the roar of the ocean surging through the 
rotten dikes make the w T arm chimney corner 
doubly grateful. Then is the reader pleased 
to follow the fortunes of the uncrowned prince 
among a people who, having " no pamphleteer- 
ing societies to demonstrate that reading and 
writing are better than meat and drink," lived 
without political science, and lost themselves 
contentedly " in the grossness of beef and ale." 
Peacock, moreover, in spite of his keenness and 
virility, is easily forgotten. We can " read 


him new," and double our enjoyment. His 
characters seldom have any substantiality. 
We remember the talk, but not the talkers, 
and so go blithely back to those scenes of glad 
good-fellowship, to that admirable conservatism 
and that caustic wit. 

Let us, then, instead of striving so strenu- 
ously to remember all we read, be grateful 
that we can occasionally forget. Mr. Samuel 
Pepys, who knew how to extract a fair share 
of pleasure out of life, frankly admits that he 
delighted in seeing an old play over again, be- 
cause he was wise enough to commit none of it 
to memory ; and Mr. Lang, who gives his vote 
to "Pepys's Diary 5 ' as the very prince of bed- 
side books, the one " which may send a man 
happily to sleep with a smile on his lips," de- 
clares it owes its fitness for this post to the 
ease with which it can be forgotten. "Your 
deeds and misdeeds," he writes, " your dinners 
and kisses, glide from our recollections, and 
being read again, surprise and amuse us afresh. 
Compared with you, Montaigne is dry, Bos- 
well is too full of matter; but one can take 
you up anywhere, and anywhere lay you down, 
certain of being diverted by the picture of that 


companion with whom you made your journey 
through life. . . . You are perpetually the 
most amusing of gossips, and, of all who have 
gossiped about themselves, the only one who 
tells the truth." 

And the poets allied with Hermes and 
happy slumber, — who are they ? Mr. Brown- 
ing is surely not one of the kindly group. I 
would as lief read Mr. George Meredith's 
prose as Mr. Browning's verse in that hour of 
effortless enjoyment. But Wordsworth holds 
some placid moments in his keeping, and we 
may wander on simple errands by his side, 
taking good care never to listen to philosophy, 
but only looking at all he shows us, until our 
hearts are surfeited with pleasure, and the 
golden daffodils dance drowsily before our 
closing eyes. Keats belongs to dreamier 
moods, when, as we read, the music of his 
words, the keen creative magic of his style, 
lure us away from earth. We leave the dark- 
ness of night, and the grayness of morning. 
We cease thinking, and are content to feel. 
It is an elfin storm we hear beating against 
the casement ; it is the foam of fairy seas that 
washes on the shore. 


" Blissfully havened both from joy and pain," 

wrapped in soft, slumberous satisfaction, we 
are but vaguely conscious of the enchanted air 
we breathe, or of our own unutterable well- 
being. There is no English poem, save only 
" Christabel," which can lead us like " The 
Eve of $t. Agnes " straight to the ivory gates, 
and waft us gently from waking dreams to the 
mistier visions of sleep. But there are many 
English poets — Herrick, and Marvell, and 
Gray, and Cowper, and Tennyson — who have 
bedside verses for us all. Herrick, indeed, 
though breathing the freshness of morning, is 
a delightful companion for night. He calls 
us so distinctly and seductively to leave, as he 
did, the grievous cares of life ; to close our 
ears to the penetrating voice of duty ; to turn 
away our eyes from the black scaffold of King 
Charles ; and to watch, with him, the blossoms 
shaken in the April wind, and the whitethorn 
of May time blooming on the hills, and the 
sheen of Julia's robe, as she goes by with 
laughter. This is not a voice to sway us at 
broad noon, when we are striving painfully to 
do our little share of work ; but Hesperus 
should bring some respite even to the dutiful, 


and in our dozy hours it is sweet to lay aside 
all labor, and keenness, and altruism. Adonis, 
says the old myth, fled from the amorous arms 
of Aphrodite to the cold Queen of Shadows 
who could promise him nothing but repose. 
Worn with passion, wearied of delight, he lay 
at the feet of Persephone, and bartered away 
youth, strength, and love for the waters of 
oblivion and the coveted blessing of sleep. 


" The child is father of the man," 

why is not the kitten father of the cat? If 
in the little boy there lurks the infant likeness 
of all that manhood will complete, why does 
not the kitten betray some of the attributes 
common to the adult puss? A puppy is but 
a dog, plus high spirits, and minus common 
sense. We never hear our friends say they 
love puppies, but cannot bear dogs. A kitten 
is a thing apart ; and many people who lack 
the discriminating enthusiasm for cats, who 
regard these beautiful beasts with aversion 
and mistrust, are won over easily, and cajoled 
out of their prejudices by the deceitful wiles 
of kittenhood. 

" The little actor cons another part," 

and is the most irresistible comedian in the 
world. Its wide-open eyes gleam with wonder 
and mirth. It darts madly at nothing at all, 
and then, as though suddenly checked in the 
pursuit, prances sideways on its hind legs 


with ridiculous agility and zeal. It makes 
a vast pretense of climbing the rounds of a 
chair, and swings by the curtain like an acro- 
bat. It scrambles up a table leg, and is seized 
with comic horror at finding itself full two 
feet from the floor. If you hasten to its res- 
cue, it clutches you nervously, its little heart 
thumping against its furry sides, while its soft 
paws expand and contract with agitation and 
relief ; 

u And all their harmless claws disclose, 
Like prickles of an early rose." 

Yet the instant it is back on the carpet it 
feigns to be suspicious of your interference, 
peers at you out of " the tail o' its ee," and 
scampers for protection under the sofa, from 
which asylum it presently emerges with cau- 
tious trailing steps, as though encompassed by 
fearful dangers and alarms. Its baby inno- 
cence is yet unseared. The evil knowledge of 
uncanny things which is the dark inheritance 
of cathood has not yet shadowed its round 
infant eyes. Where did witches find the 
mysterious beasts that sat motionless by their 
fires, and watched unblinkingly the waxen 
manikins dwindling in the flame? They 


never reared these companions of their soli- 
tude, for no witch could have endured to see 
a kitten gamboling on her hearthstone. A 
witch's kitten ! That one preposterous thought 
proves how wide, how unfathomed, is the gap 
between feline infancy and age. 

So it happens that the kitten is loved and 
cherished and caressed as long as it preserves 
the beguiling mirthfulness of youth. Riche- 
lieu, we know, was wont to keep a family of 
kittens in his cabinet, that their grace and 
gayety might divert him from the cares of 
state, and from black moods of melancholy. 
Yet, with short-sighted selfishness, he ban- 
ished these little friends when but a few 
months old, and gave their places to younger 
pets. The first faint dawn of reason, the 
first indication of soberness and worldly wis- 
dom, the first charming and coquettish pre- 
tenses to maturity, were followed by immedi- 
ate dismissal. Richelieu desired to be amused. 
He had no conception of the finer joy which 
springs from mutual companionship and es- 
teem. Even humbler and more sincere ad- 
mirers, like Joanna Baillie, in whom we wish 
to believe Puss found a friend and champion, 


appear to take it for granted that the kitten 
should be the spoiled darling of the house- 
hold, and the cat a social outcast, degraded 
into usefulness, and expected to work for her 
living. What else can be understood from 
such lines as these ? 

" Ah ! many a lightly sportive child, 
Who hath, like thee, our wits beguiled, 
To dull and sober manhood grown, 
With strange recoil our hearts disown. 
Even so, poor Kit ! must thou endure, 
When thou becomest a cat demure, 
Full many a cuff and angry word, 
Chid roughly from the tempting board. 
And yet, for that thou hast, I ween, 
So oft our favored playmate been, 
Soft be the change which thou shalt prove, 
When time hath spoiled thee of our love ; 
Still be thou deemed, by housewife fat, 
A comely, careful, mousing cat, 
Whose dish is, for the public good, 
Replenished oft with savory food." 

Here is a plain exposition of the utilitarian 
theory which Shakespeare is supposed to have 
countenanced because Shylock speaks of the 
"harmless, necessary cat." Shylock, for- 
sooth ! As if he, of all men in Christendom 
or Jewry, knew anything about cats ! Small 
wonder that he was outwitted by Portia and 


Jessica, when an adroit little animal could so 
easily beguile him. But Joanna Baillie should 
never have been guilty of those snug common- 
places concerning the 

" comely, careful, mousing' cat," 

remembering her own valiant Tabby who won 
Scott's respectful admiration by worrying and 
killing a dog. It ill became the possessor of 
an Amazonian cat, distinguished by Sir Wal- 
ter's regard, to speak with such patronizing 
kindness of the race. 

We can make no more stupid blunder than 
to look upon our pets from the standpoint of 
utility. Puss, as a rule, is another Nimrod, 
eager for the chase, and unwearyingly patient 
in pursuit of her prey. But she hunts for her 
own pleasure, not for our convenience ; and 
when a life of luxury has relaxed her zeal, she 
often declines to hunt at all. I knew inti- 
mately two Maryland cats, well born and of 
great personal attractions. The sleek, black 
Tom was named Onyx, and his snow-white 
companion Lilian. Both were idle, urbane, 
fastidious, and self-indulgent as Lucullus. 
Now, into the house honored, but not served, 


by these charming creatures came a rat, which 
secured permanent lodgings in the kitchen, 
and speedily evicted the maid servants. A 
reign of terror followed, and after a few days 
of hopeless anarchy it occurred to the cook 
that the cats might be brought from their com- 
fortable cushions upstairs and shut in at night 
with their hereditary foe. This was done, 
and the next morning, on opening the kitchen 
door, a tableau rivaling the peaceful scenes of 
Eden was presented to the view. On one side 
of the hearth lay Onyx, on the other, Lilian ; 
and ten feet away, upright upon the kitchen 
table, sat the rat, contemplating them both 
with tranquil humor and content. It was 
apparent to him, as well as to the rest of the 
household, that he was an object of absolute, 
contemptuous indifference to those two lordly 

There is none of this superb unconcern in 
the joyous eagerness of infancy. A kitten 
will dart in pursuit of everything that is 
small enough to be chased with safety. Not 
a fly on the window-pane, not a moth in the 
air, not a tiny crawling insect on the carpet, 
escapes its unwelcome attentions. It begins 


to " take notice " as soon as its eyes are open, 
and its vivacity, outstripping its dawning in- 
telligence, leads it into infantile perils and 
wrong doing. I own that when Agrippina 
brought her first-born son — aged two days — 
and established him in my bedroom closet, the 
plan struck me at the start as inconvenient. 
I had prepared another nursery for the little 
Claudius Nero, and I endeavored for a while 
to convince his mother that my arrangements 
were best. But Agrippina was inflexible. 
The closet suited her in every respect; and, 
with charming and irresistible flattery, she 
gave me to understand, in the mute language 
I knew so well, that she wished her baby boy 
to be under my immediate protection. " I 
bring him to you because I trust you," she 
said as plainly as looks can speak. " Down- 
stairs they handle him all the time, and it is 
not good for kittens to be handled. Here he 
is safe from harm, and here he shall remain." 
After a few weak remonstrances, the futility 
of which I too clearly understood, her persist- 
ence carried the day. I removed my clothing 
from the closet, spread a shawl upon the floor, 
had the door taken from its hinges, and re- 


signed myself, for the first time in my life, to 
the daily and hourly companionship of an in- 

I was amply rewarded. People who require 
the household cat to rear her offspring in some 
remote attic, or dark corner of the cellar, have 
no idea of all the diversion and pleasure that 
they lose. It is delightful to watch the little 
blind, sprawling, feeble, helpless things develop 
swiftly into the grace and agility of kitten- 
hood. It is delightful to see the mingled 
pride and anxiety of the mother, whose paren- 
tal love increases with every hour of care, and 
who exhibits her young family as if they were 
infant Gracchi, the hope of all their race., 
During Nero's extreme youth, there were 
times, I admit, when Agrippina wearied both 
of his companionship and of her own maternal 
duties. Once or twice she abandoned him at 
night for the greater luxury of my bed, where 
she slept tranquilly by my side, unmindful of 
the little wailing cries with which Nero la- 
mented her desertion. Once or twice the heat 
of early summer tempted her to spend the 
evening on the porch roof which lay beneath 
my windows, and I have passed some anxious 


hours awaiting her return, and wondering 
what would happen if she never came back, 
and I were left to bring up the baby by hand. 
But as the days sped on, and Nero grew 
rapidly in beauty and intelligence, Agrip- 
pina's affection for him knew no bounds. 
She could hardly bear to leave him even for a 
little while, and always came hurrying back to 
him with a loud frightened mew, as if fearing 
he might have been stolen in her absence. At 
night she purred over him for hours, or made 
little gurgling noises expressive of ineffable 
content. She resented the careless curiosity 
of strangers, and was a trifle supercilious 
when the cook stole softly in to give vent to 
her fervent admiration. But from first to last 
she shared with me her pride -and pleasure ; 
and the joy in her beautiful eyes, as she raised 
them to mine, was frankly confiding and sym- 
pathetic. When the infant Claudius rolled 
for the first time over the ledge of the closet, 
and lay sprawling on the bedroom floor, it 
would have been hard to say which of us was 
the more elated at his prowess. A narrow 
pink ribbon of honor was at once tied around 
the small adventurer's neck, and he was pro- 


nounced the most daring and agile of kittens. 
From that day his brief career was a series of 
brilliant triumphs. He was a kitten of parts. 
Like one of Miss Austen's heroes, he had air 
and countenance. Less beautiful than his 
mother, whom he closely resembled, he easily 
eclipsed her in vivacity and the specious arts 
of fascination. Never were mother and son 
more unlike in character and disposition, and 
the inevitable contrast between kittenhood and 
cathood was enhanced in this case by a strong 
natural dissimilarity which no length of years 
could have utterly effaced. 

Agrippina had always been a cat of mani- 
fest reserves. She was only six weeks old 
when she came to me, and had already ac- 
quired that gravity of demeanor, that air of 
gentle disdain, that dignified and somewhat 
supercilious composure, which won the respect- 
ful admiration of those whom she permitted 
to enjoy her acquaintance. Even in moments 
of self-forgetfulness and mirth her recreations 
resembled those of the little Spanish Infanta, 
who, not being permitted to play with her in- 
feriors, and having no equals, diverted herself 
as best she could with sedate and solitary 


sport. Always chary of her favors, Agrip- 
pina cared little for the admiration of her 
chosen circle ; and, with a single exception, 
she made no friends beyond it. 

Claudius Nero, on the contrary, thirsted for 
applause. Affable, debonair, and democratic 
to the core, the caresses and commendations of 
a chance visitor or of a housemaid were as 
valuable to him as were my own. I never 
looked at him " showing off," as children say, 
— jumping from chair to chair, balancing 
himself on the bedpost, or scrambling raptu- 
rously up the forbidden curtains, — without 
thinking of the young Emperor who contended 
in the amphitheatre for the worthless plaudits 
of the crowd. He was impulsive and affec- 
tionate, — so, I believe was the Emperor for 
a time, — and as masterful as if born to the 
purple. His mother struggled hard to main- 
tain her rightful authority, but it was in vain. 
He woke her from her sweetest naps ; he 
darted at her tail, and leaped down on her 
from sofas and tables with the grace of a di- 
minutive panther. Every time she attempted 
to punish him for these misdemeanors he cried 
piteously for help, and was promptly and un- 


wisely rescued by some kind-hearted member 
of the family. After a while Agrippina took 
to sitting on her tail, in order to keep it out 
of his reach, and I have seen her many times 
carefully tucking it out of sight. She had 
never been a cat of active habits or of showy 
accomplishments, and the daring agility of 
the little Nero amazed and bewildered her. 
" A Spaniard," observes that pleasant gossip, 
James Howell, "walks as if he marched, and 
seldom looks upon the ground, as if he con- 
temned it. I was told of a Spaniard who, 
having got a fall by a stumble, and broke his 
nose, rose up, and in a disdainful manner said, 
6 This comes of walking on the earth.' " 

Now Nero seldom walked on the earth. At 
least, he never, if he could help it, walked on 
the floor ; but traversed a room in a series of 
flying leaps from chair to table, from table to 
lounge, from lounge to desk, with an occa- 
sional dash at the mantelpiece, just to show 
what he could do. It was curious to watch 
Agrippina during the performance of these 
acrobatic feats. Pride, pleasure, the anxiety 
of a mother, and the faint resentment of con- 
scious inferiority struggled for mastership in 


her little breast. Sometimes, when Nero's 
radiant self-satisfaction grew almost insuffer- 
able, I have seen her eyelids narrow sullenly, 
and have wondered whether the Roman Em- 
press ever looked in that way at her brilliant 
and beautiful son, when maternal love was 
withering slowly under the shadow of coming 
evil. Sometimes, when Nero had been pran- 
cing and paddling about with absurd and irre- 
sistible glee, attracting and compelling the 
attention of everybody in the room, Agrippina 
would jump up on my lap, and look in my 
face with an expression I thought I under- 
stood. She had never before valued my affec- 
tion in all her little petted, pampered life. 
She had been sufficient for herself, and had 
merely tolerated me as a devoted and use- 
ful companion. But now that another had 
usurped so many of her privileges, I fancied 
there were moments when it pleased her to 
know that one subject, at least, was not to be 
beguiled from allegiance ; that to one friend, 
at least, she always was and always would be 
the dearest cat in the world. 

I am glad to remember that love triumphed 
over jealousy, and that Agrippina's devotion 


to Nero increased with every day of his short 
life. The altruism of a cat seldom reaches 
beyond her kittens ; but she is capable of he- 
roic unselfishness where they are concerned. 
I knew of a London beast, a homeless, forlorn 
vagrant, who constituted herself an out-door 
pensioner at the house of a friendly man of 
letters. This cat had a kitten, whose youth- 
ful vivacity won the hearts of a neighboring 
family. They adopted it willingly, but re- 
fused to harbor the mother, who still came for 
her daily dole to her only benefactor. When- 
ever a bit of fish or some other especial dainty 
was given her, this poor mendicant scaled the 
wall, and watched her chance to share it with 
her kitten, her little wealthy, greedy son, who 
gobbled it up as remorselessly as if he were 
not living on the fat of the land. 

Agrippina would have been swift to follow 
such an example of devotion. At dinner time 
she always yielded the precedence to Nero, 
and it became one of our daily tasks to com- 
pel the little lad to respect his mother's privi- 
leges. He scorned his saucer of milk, and 
from tenderest infancy aspired to adult food, 
making predatory incursions upon Agrippina's 


plate, and obliging us finally to feed them in 
separate apartments. I have seen him, when 
a very young kitten, rear himself upon his 
baby legs, and with his soft and wicked little 
paw strike his mother in the face until she 
dropped the piece of meat she had been eat- 
ing, when he tranquilly devoured it. It was 
to prevent the recurrence of such scandalous 
scenes that two dining-rooms became a neces- 
sity in the family. Yet he was so loving and 
so lovable, poor little Claudius Nero ! Why 
do I dwell on his faults, remembering, as I 
do, his winning sweetness and affability? 
Day after day, in the narrow city garden, the 
two cats played together, happy in each other's 
society, and never a yard apart. Night after 
night they retired at the same time, and slept 
upon the same cushion, curled up inextricably 
into one soft, furry ball. Many times I have 
knelt by their chair to bid them both good- 
night ; and always, when I did so, Agrippina 
would lift her charming head, purr drowsily 
for a few seconds, and then nestle closer still 
to her first-born, with sighs of supreme sat- 
isfaction. The zenith of her life had been 
reached. Her cup of contentment was full. 


It is a rude world, even for little cats, and 
evil chances lie in wait for the petted crea- 
tures we strive to shield from harm. Remem- 
bering the pangs of separation, the possibili- 
ties of unkindness or neglect, the troubles 
that hide in ambush on every unturned page, 
I am sometimes glad that the same cruel and 
selfish blow struck both mother and son, and 
that they lie together, safe from hurt or haz- 
ard, sleeping tranquilly and always, under 
the shadow of the friendly pines. 


"Compare," said a friend to me recently, 
" the relative proportion of kissing and veni- 
son pasties in Scott's novels and Miss Rhoda 
Broughton's, " — and I did. It was a lame 
comparison, owing to my limited acquaintance 
with part of the given text ; but I pursued my 
investigations cheerfully along the line of 
Waverley, and was delighted and edified by 
the result. Years ago, a sulky critic in 
Blackwood, commenting acrimoniously on Miss 
Susan Warner's very popular tales, asserted 
that there was more kissing in one of these 
narratives than in all the stories Sir Walter 
ever wrote. Probably the critic was right. 
As far as I can recollect Miss Warner's hero- 
ines, — and I knew several of them intimately 
when a child, — they were always either kiss- 
ing or crying, and occasionally they did both 
together. Ellen Montgomery, dissolved in 
tears because John has forgotten to kiss her 
good-night, was as cheerless a companion as I 


ever found in the wide world of story-book 

But Scott's young people never seem to 
hunger for embraces. They allow the most 
splendid opportunities to slip by without a 
single caress. When Quentin Durward res- 
cues the Countess Isabella at the siege of Liege, 
he does not pause to passionately kiss her cold 
lips ; he gathers her up with all possible speed, 
and makes practical plans for getting her out 
of the way. When Edith Bellenden visits her 
imprisoned lover, no thought of kissing enters 
either mind. Henry Morton is indeed so over- 
come by " deep and tumultuous feeling " that 
he presses his visitor's " unresisting hands ; " 
but even this indulgence is of brief duration. 
Miss Bellenden quickly recovers her hands, 
and begins to discuss the situation with a 
great deal of sense and good feeling. Henry 
Bertram does not appear to have stolen a sin- 
gle kiss from that romantic and charming 
young woman, Julia Mannering, in the whole 
course of their clandestine courtship ; and the 
propriety of Lord Glenvarloch's behavior, when 
shut up in a cell with pretty Margaret Ram- 
say, must be remembered by all. " Naething 


for you to sniggle and laugh at, Steenie," ob- 
serves King James reprovingly to the Duke of 
Buckingham, when that not immaculate noble- 
man betrays some faint amusement at the 
young Scotchman's modesty. " He might be 
a Father of the Church, in comparison of you, 

In the matter of venison pasties, however, 
we have a different tale to tell. There are 
probably ten of these toothsome dishes to every 
kiss, twenty of them to every burst of tears. 
Compare Quentin Durward as a fighter to 
Quentin Durward as a lover, and then, by way 
of understanding how he preserved his muscle, 
turn back to that delightful fourth chapter, 
where the French King plays the part of host 
at the famous inn breakfast. So admirably is 
the scene described in two short pages, so fine 
is the power of Scott's genial human sympathy, 
that I have never been able, since reading it, 
to cherish for Louis XI. the aversion which is 
his rightful due. In vain I recall the familiar 
tales of his cruelty and baseness. In vain I 
remind myself of his treacherous plans for poor 
Durward's destruction. 'T is useless ! I can- 
not dissociate him from that noble meal, nor 


from the generous enthusiasm with which he 
provides for, and encourages, the splendid 
appetite of youth. The inn breakfast has but 
one peer, even in Scott's mirthful pages, and 
to find it we must follow the fortunes of an- 
other monarch who masquerades to better pur- 
pose than does Maitre Pierre, whose asylum is 
the hermitage of St. Dunstan, and whose host 
is the jolly Clerk of Copmanhurst. The grad- 
ual progress and slow development of the holy 
hermit's supper, which begins tentatively with 
parched pease and a can of water from St. 
Dunstan's well, and ends with a mighty pasty 
of stolen venison and a huge flagon of wine, 
fill the reader's heart — if he has a heart — 
with sound and sympathetic enjoyment. It is 
one of the gastronomic delights of literature. 
Every step of the way is taken with renewed 
pleasure, for the humors of the situation are 
as unflagging as the appetites and the thirst of 
the revelers. Even the quarrel which threat- 
ens to disturb the harmony of the feast only 
adds to its flavor. Guest and host, disguised 
king and pretended recluse, are as ready to 
fight as to eat ; and, with two such champions, 
who shall say where the palm of victory hides ? 


Any weapon will suit the monk, "from the 
scissors of Delilah, and the tenpenny nail of 
Jael, to the scimitar of Goliath," though the 
good broadsword pleases him best. Any 
weapon will suit King Richard, and he is a 
match for Friar Tuck in all. Born brothers 
are they, though the throne of England waits 
for one, and the oaks of Sherwood Forest for 
the other. 

" But there is neither east, nor west, border, nor breed, nor 
When two strong men stand face to face, though they 
come from the ends of the earth." 

In his descriptions of eating and drinking, 
Scott stands midway between the snug, coarse, 
hearty enjoyment of Dickens, and the frank 
epicureanism of Thackeray, and he easily sur- 
passes them both. With Dickens, the pleasure 
of the meal springs from the honest appetites 
which meet it — appetites sharpened often by 
the pinching pains of hunger. With Thack- 
eray, it is the excellence of the entertainment 
itself which merits approbation. With Scott, 
it is the spirit of genial good-fellowship which 
turns a venison pasty into a bond of brother- 
hood, and strengthens, with a runlet of canary, 


the human tie which binds us man to man. 
Dickens tries to do this, but does not often 
succeed, just because he tries. A conscious 
purpose is an irresistible temptation to oratory, 
and we do not want to be preached to over a 
roast goose, nor lectured at through the medium 
of pork and greens. Scott never turns a table 
into a pulpit ; it is his own far-reaching sym- 
pathy which touches the secret springs that 
move us to kind thoughts. Quentin Durward's 
breakfast at the inn is worthy of Thackeray. 
Quentin Durward's appetite is worthy of Dick- 
ens. But Quentin Durward's host — the cruel 
and perfidious Louis — ah ! no one but Scott 
would have dared to paint him with such fine, 
unhostile art, and no one but Scott would have 

In point of detail, however, Dickens defies 
competition. Before his vast and accurate 
knowledge the puny efforts of modern realism 
shrink into triviality and nothingness. What 
is the occasional dinner at a third-class New 
York restaurant, the roast chicken and mashed 
potatoes and cranberry tart, eaten with such 
ostentatious veracity, when compared to that 
unerring observation which penetrated into 


every English larder, which lifted the lid of 
every pipkin, and divined the contents of every 
mysterious and forbidding meat pie ! Dickens 
knew when the Micawbers supped on lamb's 
fry, and when on breaded chops ; he knew the 
contents of Mrs. Bardell's little saucepan sim- 
mering by the fire ; he knew just how many 
pigeons lurked under the crust of John Brow- 
die's pasty; he knew every ingredient — and 
there are nearly a dozen of them — in the Jolly 
Sandboys' stew. There was not a muffin, nor 
a bit of toasted cheese, nor a slab of pease-pud- 
ding from the cook-shop, nor a rasher of ba- 
con, nor a slice of cucumber, nor a dish of pet- 
titoes eaten without his knowledge and consent. 
And, as it cost him no apparent effort to re- 
member and tell all these things, it costs us no 
labor to read them. We are naturally pleased 
to hear that Mr. Vincent Crummies has or- 
dered a hot beefsteak-pudding and potatoes at 
nine, and we hardly need to be reminded — 
even by the author — of the excellence of Mr. 
Swiveller's purl. The advantage of uncon- 
scious realism over the premeditated article is 
a lack of stress on the author's part, and a 
corresponding lack of fatigue on ours. 


Thackeray reaches the climax of really good 
cooking, and, with the art of a great novelist, 
he restrains his gastronomic details, and keeps 
them within proper bounds. Beyond his 
limits it is not wise to stray, lest we arrive 
at the land of gilded puppets, where Disraeli's 
dukes and duchesses feast forever on ortolans, 
and pompetones of larks, and lobster sand- 
wiches; where young spendthrifts breakfast 
at five o'clock in the afternoon on soup and 
claret ; and where the enamored Lothair feeds 
Miss Arundel " with cates as delicate as her 
lips, and dainty beverages which would not 
outrage their purity." The " pies and prepara- 
tions of many lands " which adorn the table 
of that distinguished dinner-giver, Mr. Brance- 
peth, fill us with vague but lamentable doubts. 
" Royalty," we are assured, " had consecrated 
his banquets " and tasted of those pies ; but it 
is the province of royalty, as Mr. Euskin re- 
minds us, to dare brave deeds which common- 
ers may be excused from attempting. Hugo 
Bohun, at the Duke's banquet, fired with the 
splendid courage of his crusading ancestry, 
dislodges the ortolans from their stronghold 
of aspic jelly, and gives to the entertainment 


that air of glittering unreality which was Dis- 
raeli's finest prerogative, and which has been 
copied with facile fidelity by Mr. Oscar 
Wilde. " I see it is time for supper," ob- 
serves the aesthetic Gilbert of the dialogues. 
" After we have discussed some Chambertin 
and a few ortolans, we will pass on to the 
question of the critic, considered in the light 
of the interpreter." And when we read these 
lines, our lingering doubts as to whether Gil- 
bert be a man or a mere mouthpiece for beau- 
tiful words, " a reed cut short and notched by 
the great god Pan for the production of flute- 
melodies at intervals," fade into dejected cer- 
tainty. That touch about the ortolans is so 
like Disraeli, that all Gilbert's surpassing 
modern cleverness can no longer convince us 
of his vitality. He needs but a golden plate 
to fit him for the ducal dining-table, where 
royalty, and rose-colored tapestry, and " splen- 
did nonchalance" complete the dazzling illu- 
sion. After which, we may sober ourselves 
with a parting glance at the breakfast-room of 
Tillietudlem, and at the fare which Lady 
Margaret Bellenden has prepared for Graham 
of Claverhouse and his troopers. "No tea, 


no coffee, no variety of rolls, but solid and 
substantial viands — the priestly ham, the 
knightly surloin, the noble baron of beef, the 
princely venison pasty." Here in truth is a 
vigorous and an honorable company, and here 
is a banquet for men. 


It is a thankless task to be a parent in 
these exacting days, and I wonder now and 
then at the temerity which prompts man or 
woman to assume such hazardous duties. 
Time was, indeed, when parents lifted their 
heads loftily in the world ; when they were 
held to be, in the main, useful and responsible 
persons ; when their authority, if unheeded, 
was at least unquestioned ; and when one of 
the ten commandments was considered to indi- 
cate that especial reverence was their due. 
These simple and primitive convictions lin- 
gered on so long that some of us can perhaps 
remember when they were a part of our youth- 
ful creed, and when, in life and in literature, 
the lesson commonly taught was that the 
province of the parent is to direct and control, 
the privilege of the child is to obey, and to be 
exempt from the painful sense of responsi- 
bility which overtakes him in later years. In 
very old-fashioned books, this point of view is 


strained to embrace some rather difficult con- 
clusions. The attitude of Evelina to her 
worthless father, of Clarissa Harlowe to her 
tyrannical parents, seemed right and reason- 
able to the generations which first read these 
novels, while we of the present day are amazed 
at such unnatural submissiveness and loyalty. 
" It is hard," says Clarissa's mother, in an- 
swer to her daughter's despairing appeals, " if 
a father and mother, and uncles and aunts, all 
conjoined, cannot be allowed to direct your 
choice ; " an argument to which the unhappy 
victim replies only with her tears. How one 
longs to offer Mrs. Harlowe some of these lit- 
tle manuals of advice which prove to us now 
so conclusively that even a young child is 
deeply wronged by subjection. " Looked at 
from the highest standpoint," says one of our 
modern mentors, " we have no more right to 
interfere with individual choice in our children 
than we have to interfere with the choice of 
friends ; " a statement which, applied as it 
is, not to marriageable young women, but to 
small boys and girls, defines matters explicitly, 
and does away at once and forever with all 
superannuated theories of obedience. 


A short perusal of these text-books of train- 
ing would lead the uninitiated to conclude 
that the children of to-day are a down-trodden 
race, deprived of their natural rights by the 
ruthless despotism of parents. It is also indi- 
cated with painful and humiliating distinct- 
ness that adults have no rights — at least none 
that children are bound to respect — and that 
we have hardened ourselves into selfishness by 
looking at things from a grown-up, and conse- 
quently erroneous, point of view. For exam- 
ple, to many of us it is an annoyance when a 
child wantonly destroys our property. This 
is ungenerous. " With anointed eyes we 
might often see in such a tendency a great 
power of analysis, that needs only to be un- 
derstood to secure grand results;" — which 
reflection should make us prompt to welcome 
the somewhat disastrous results already se- 
cured. I once knew a little boy who, having 
been taken on a visit to some relatives, suc- 
ceeded within half an hour in purloining the 
pendulums of three old family clocks, a pas- 
sion for analysis which ought to have made 
him one of the first mechanics of his age, had 
not his genius, like that of the political agita- 


tor, stopped short at the portals of reconstruc- 

It is hard to attune our minds to a correct 
appreciation of such incidents, when the clocks 
belong to us, and the child does n't. It is 
hard to be told that our pendulums are a 
necessary element, which we do wrong to be- 
grudge, in the training of a boy's observation. 
All modern writers upon children unite in 
denouncing the word "don't," as implying 
upon every occasion a censure which is often 
unmerited. But this protest reminds me of 
the little girl who, being told by her father 
she must not say " I won't," innocently in- 
quired : " But, papa, what am I to say when 
I mean c I won't ' ? ' : In the same spirit of 
uncertainty I would like to know what I am 
to say when I mean " don't." Auretta Roys 
Aldrich, who has written a book on " Children 
— Their Models and Critics," in which she is 
rather severe upon adults, tells us a harrowing 
tale of a mother and a five-year-old boy who 
sat near her one day on a railway train. The 
child thrust his head out of the window, 
whereupon the mother said tersely : " Johnnie, 
stop putting your head out of the window ! " 


That was all. No word of explanation or 
entreaty softened this ruthless command. 
Whether Johnnie obeyed or not is unrevealed, 
being a matter of no importance ; but, " as 
they left the car," comments the author, "they 
left also an aching in my heart. I longed to 
clasp the mother in my arms, for she, too, had 
been the victim of misunderstanding; and 
show her, before it was too late, how she was 
missing the pure gold of life for herself and 
her little boy." Happily, before long, another 
mother entered, and her child also put his 
head as far as he could out of that trouble- 
some window, which nobody seemed to have 
the sense to shut. Observing this, his wise 
parent sat down by his side, " made some 
pleasant remark about the outlook," and then 
gradually and persuasively revealed to him 
his danger, discussing the matter with " much 
candor and interest," until he was finally won 
over to her point of view, and consented of 
his own free will, and as a rational human be- 
ing, to draw in his little head. 

I think this double experience worth repeat- 
ing, because it contrasts so pleasantly with 
the venerable anecdote which found its way 


into all the reading books when I was a small 
child, and illustrated the then popular theory 
of education. It was the story of a mother 
who sees her boy running rapidly down a 
steep hill, and knows that, almost at his feet, 
lies an abandoned quarry, half hidden by un- 
derbrush and weeds. Sure of his obedience, 
she calls sharply, " Stop, Willie ! " and the 
child, with a violent effort, stays his steps at 
the very mouth of the pit. Had it been neces- 
sary to convince him first that her appre- 
hensions were well grounded, he would have 
broken his neck meanwhile, and our school- 
books would have had one tale less to tell. 

Still more astounding to the uninitiated is 
another little narrative, told with enviable 
gravity by Mrs. Aldrich, and designed to 
show how easily and deeply we wound a 
child's inborn sense of justice. " A beautiful 
boy of four whose parents were unusually wise 
in dealing with him " — it is seldom that a 
parent wins this degree of approbation — pos- 
sessed a wheelbarrow of his own, in which he 
carried the letters daily to and from the post- 
office. One morning he was tardy in return- 
ing, " for there was the world to be explored " 


on the way ; and his mother, growing anxious, 
or perhaps desiring her mail, followed him to 
know what was the matter. She met him at 
the post-office door, and seeing in the barrow 
an envelope directed to herself, she rashly 
picked it up and opened it. Edwin promptly 
"raised a vehement cry of protest." That 
letter, like all the rest, had been given to him 
to carry, and no one else was privileged to 
touch it. Swiftly and repentantly his mother 
returned the unfortunate missive, but in vain. 
" The wound was too deep, and he continued 
to cry ' Mamma, you ought not to have done 
it ! ' over and over again between his sobs." 
In fact he "refused to be comforted," — com- 
forted ! — " and so was taken home as best he 
could be, and laid tenderly and lovingly in 
bed. After sleeping away the sharpness of 
sorrow and disappointment, and consequent 
exhaustion, the matter could be talked over ; 
but while he was so tired, and keenly smart- 
ing under the sense of injustice done him, 
every word added fuel to the flame. . . . His 
possessions had been taken away from him 
by sheer force, before which he was helpless. 
That his indignation was not appeased by put- 


ting the letter back into his keeping, showed 
that he was contending for a principle, and 
not for possession or any selfish interest." 

Readers of George Eliot may be pleasantly 
reminded of that scene in the "Mill on the 
Floss " where Tom Tulliver unthinkingly with- 
draws a rattle with which he has been amus- 
ing baby Moss, " whereupon she, being a baby 
that knew her own mind with remarkable 
clearness, instantaneously expressed her sen- 
timents in a piercing yell, and was not to be 
appeased even by the restoration of the rattle, 
feeling apparently that the original wrong of 
having it taken away from her remained in all 
its force." But to some of us the anecdote of 
Edwin and his wheelbarrow is more disheart- 
ening than droll. The revelation of such ad- 
mirable motives underlying such inexcusable 
behavior puzzles and alarms us. If this four- 
year-old prig " contending for a principle and 
not for possession " be a real boy, what has 
become of all the dear, naughty, fighting, 
obstinate, self-willed, precious children whom 
we used to know ; the children who contended 
joyously, not for principle, but for precedence, 
and to whom we could say " don't " a dozen 


times a day with ample justification. Little 
boys ought to be the most delightful things in 
the world, with the exception of little girls. 
It is as easy to love them when they are bad 
as to tolerate them when they are good. But 
what can we do with conscientious infants to 
whom misbehavior is a moral obligation, and 
who scream in the public streets from an ex- 
alted sense of justice ? 

Mrs. Kate Douglas Wiggin, that ardent 
champion of Froebel, has also given to the 
world a book bearing the somewhat ominous 
title, " Children's Eights," but which is for the 
most part as interesting as it is sane. Setting 
aside the question of kindergartens, concerning 
which there are at present many conflicting 
opinions, it is impossible not to agree with 
Mrs. Wiggin in much that she states so deftly, 
and maintains so vivaciously. There is little 
doubt that the rights of the parent do infringe 
occasionally on the rights of the child, and 
that, in the absence of any standard, the child 
becomes a creature of circumstance. He can 
be fed unwholesomely, kept up late at night, 
dressed like Lord Fauntleroy, dosed with per- 
nicious drugs, and humored into selfish petu- 


lance at the discretion of his mother. Worse 
still, he can be suffered to waste away in fever 
pain and die, because his parents chance to 
be fanatics who reject the aid of medicines to 
trust exclusively in prayer. But granting all 
this, fathers and mothers have still their places 
in the world, and until we can fill these places 
with something better, it is worth while to call 
attention now and then to the useful part they 
play. It is perhaps a significant fact that 
mothers, simply because they are mothers, 
succeed better, as a rule, in bringing up their 
children than other women, equally loving and 
sensible, who are compelled to assume their 
duties. That old-fashioned plea " I know 
what is best for my child " may be derided as 
a relic of darkness ; but there is an illuminat- 
ing background to its gloom. I am not even 
sure that parents stand in absolute need of all 
the good advice they receive. I am quite sure 
that many trifles are not worth the serious 
counsels expended upon them. Reading or 
telling a story, for instance, has become as 
grave a matter as choosing a laureate, and 
many a mother must stand aghast at the con- 
flicting admonitions bestowed upon her : Read 


fairy tales. Don't read fairy tales. Read 
about elves. Don't read about ogres. Read 
of heroic deeds. Don't read of bloody battles. 
Avoid too much instruction. Be as subtly in- 
structive as you can. Make your stories long. 
Make your stories short. Work the moral in. 
Leave the moral out. Try and please the 
older children. Try and charm the younger 
ones. ' Study the tastes of boys. Follow the 
fancies of girls. By degrees the harassed 
parent who endeavors to obey these instruc- 
tions will cease telling stories at all, confident 
that the task, which once seemed so simple 
and easy, must lie far beyond her limited in- 

All that Mrs. Wiggin has to say about chil- 
dren's books and playthings is both opportune 
and true. I wish indeed she would not speak 
of restoring toys " to their place in education," 
which has a dismal sound, though she does not 
mean it to be taken dismally. Toys are toys 
to her, not traps to erudition, and the costly 
inanities of our modern nurseries fill her with 
well-warranted aversion. We are doing our 
best to stunt the imaginations of children by 
overloading them with illustrated story-books 


and elaborate playthings. Little John Rus- 
kin, whose sole earthly possessions were a cart, 
a ball, and two boxes of wooden bricks, was 
infinitely better off than the small boy of to- 
day whose real engine drags a train of real cars 
over a miniature elevated railway, almost as 
ghastly as reality, and whose well-dressed sol- 
diers cannot fight until they are wound up with 
a key. " The law was that I should find my 
own amusement," says Ruskin ; and he found 
it readily enough in the untrammeled use of 
his observation, his intelligence, and his fancy. 
I have known children to whom a dozen spools 
had a dozen distinct individualities ; soldiers, 
priests, nuns, and prisoners of war; and to 
whom every chair in the nursery was a well- 
tried steed, familiar alike with the race-course 
and the Holy Land, having its own name, and 
requiring to be carefully stabled at night after 
the heroic exertions of the day. The roman- 
ces and dramas of infancy need no more set- 
ting than a Chinese play, and in that limitless 
dreamland the transformations are as easy as 
they are brilliant. But no child can success- 
fully "make believe," when he is encumbered 
on every side by mechanical toys so odiously 


complete that they leave nothing for the imagi- 
nation to supply. 

In the matter of books, Mrs. Wiggin dis- 
plays the same admirable conservatism, her 
modern instincts being checked and held in 
sway by the recollection of those few dear old 
volumes which little girls used to read over 
and over again, until they knew them by heart. 
Yet I hardly think that " naughty " is a kind 
word to apply to Miss Edgeworth's Rosamond, 
who is not very wise, I admit, and under no 
circumstances a prig, but always docile and 
charming and good. And why should the 
46 red morocco housewife," which Rosamond, in 
one of her rare moments of discretion, chooses 
instead of a stone plum, be stigmatized as 
" hideous but useful." It may have been an 
exceedingly neat and pretty possession. We 
are told nothing to the contrary, and I had a 
brown one stamped with gold when I was a 
little girl, which, to my infant eyes represented 
supreme artistic excellence. It also hurts my 
feelings very much to hear Casabianca dubbed 
an " inspired idiot," who lacked the sense to 
escape. Unless the Roman sentries found 
dead at their posts in Pompeii were also in- 


spired idiots, there should be some kinder 
word for the blind heroism which subordinates 
reason to obedience. And I am by no means 
sure that this form of relentless nineteenth- 
century criticism does not do more to vulgarize 
a child's mind by destroying his simple ideals, 
than do the frank old games which Mrs. Wig- 
gin considers so boorish, and which fill her 
with " unspeakable shrinking and moral dis- 
gust." The coarseness of "Here come two 
ducks a-roving," which was once the blithest 
of pastorals, and of that curious relic of anti- 
quity, " Green Gravel," is not of a hurtful 
kind, and some of these plays have a keen 
attraction for highly imaginative children. 
For my part, I do not believe that all the kin- 
dergarten games in Christendom, all the gentle 
joy of pretending you were a swallow and had 
your little baby swallows cuddled under your 
wing, can compare for an instant with the lost 
delight of playing " London Bridge " in the 
dusk of a summer evening, or in the dimly-lit 
schoolroom at bedtime. There was a mysteri- 
ous fascination in the words whose meaning 
no one understood, and no one sought to un- 
derstand : — 


" Here comes a candle to light you to bed 
And here comes a hatchet to cut off your head." 

And then the sudden grasp of four strong 
little arms, and a pleasing thrill of terror at a 
danger which was no danger, — only a shadow 
and a remembrance of some dim horror in the 
past, living for generations in the unbroken 
traditions of play. 

I have wandered unduly from the wrongs 
of parents to the rights of children, an easy 
and agreeable step to take. But the children 
have many powerful advocates, and need no 
help from me. The parents stand undefended, 
and suffer grievous things in the way of coun- 
sel and reproach. It must surprise some of 
them occasionally to be warned so often against 
undue severity. It must amaze them to hear 
that their lazy little boys and girls are suffer- 
ing from overwork, and in danger of mental 
exhaustion. It must amuse them — if they 
have any sense of humor > — to be told in the 
columns of a weekly paper " How to Reprove 
a Child," just as they are told " How to Make 
an Apple Pudding," and " How to Eemove 
Grease Spots from Clothing." As for the 
discipline of the nursery, that has become a 


matter of supreme importance to all whom it 
does not concern, and the suggestions offered, 
the methods urged, are so varied and conflict- 
ing that the modern mother can be sure of one 
thing only, — all that she does is wrong. The 
most popular theory appears to be that when- 
ever a child is naughty it is his parent's fault, 
and she owes him prompt atonement for his 
misbehavior. "We should be astonished, if 
not appalled," says Mrs. Aldrich, " if we could 
see in figures the number of times the average 
child is unnecessarily censured during the first 
seven years of life." Punishment is altogether 
out of favor. Its apparent necessity arises 
from the ill-judged course of the father or 
mother in refusing to a child control over his 
own actions. This doctrine was expounded to 
us some years ago by Helen Hunt, who rea- 
soned wisely that " needless denials " were re- 
sponsible for most youthful naughtiness, and 
who was probably right. It would not perhaps 
be too much to say that if we could have what 
we wanted and do what we wanted all through 
life, we should, even as adults, be saved from 
a great deal of fretfulness and bad behavior. 
Miss Nora Smith, who is Mrs. Wiggin's 


clever collaborates, allows, however, what she 
terms "natural punishment," or "natural re- 
tribution," which appears to be something like 
the far-famed justice of the Mikado, and is 
represented as being absolutely satisfactory to 
the child. This is a gain over the old methods 
which the child, as a rule, disliked ; and it is 
also a gain over the long-drawn tests so ur- 
gently commended by Helen Hunt, whose 
model mother shut herself up for two whole 
days with her four-year-old boy, until she suc- 
ceeded, by moral suasion, in inducing him to 
say G. During these two days the model 
mother's equally model husband was content 
to eat his meals alone, and to spend his even- 
ings in solitude, unless he went to his club, and 
all her social and domestic duties were cheer- 
fully abandoned. Her principle was, not to 
enforce obedience, but to persuade the child to 
overcome his own reluctance, to conquer his 
own will. With this view, she pretended for 
forty-eight hours that he could not pronounce 
the letter, and that she was there to help him 
to do it. The boy, baby though he was, knew 
better. He knew he was simply obstinate, and, 
with the delicious clear-sightedness of children, 
which ought to put all sentimental theorists 


to shame, lie actually proposed to his parent 
that she should shut him in a closet and see if 
that would not "make him good ! ' : Of course 
the unhallowed suggestion was not adopted ; 
but what a tale it tells of childish acumen, and 
of that humorous grasp of a situation which is 
the endowment of infancy. The dear little 
sensible, open-eyed creatures ! See them deal- 
ing out swift justice to their erring dolls, and 
you will learn their views upon the subject of 
retribution. I once knew a father who de- 
fended himself for frequently thrashing an 
only and idolized son — who amply merited 
each chastisement — by saying that Jack would 
think him an idiot if he did n't. That father 
was lamentably ignorant "of much that it be- 
hooves a father now to acquire. He had 
probably never read a single book designed 
for the instruction and humiliation of parents. 
He was in a state of barbaric darkness con- 
cerning the latest theories of education. But 
he knew one thing perfectly, and that one 
thing, says Sir Francis Doyle, is slipping fast 
from the minds of men ; namely, " The inten- 
tion of the Almighty that there should exist 
for a certain time between childhood and man- 
hood, the natural production known as a boy." 


There is a sentence in one of Miss Mit- 
ford's earliest and most charming papers, 
" The Cowslip Ball," which has always de- 
lighted me by its quiet satire and admirable 
good-temper. She is describing her repeated 
efforts and her repeated failures to tie the 
fragrant clusters together. 

"We went on very prosperously, considering \ 
as people say of a young lady's drawing, or a 
Frenchman's English, or a woman's tragedy, 
or of the poor little dwarf who works without 
fingers, or the ingenious sailor who writes with 
his toes, or generally of any performance 
which is accomplished by means seemingly in- 
adequate to its production." 

Here is precisely the sentiment which Dr. 
Johnson embodied, more trenchantly, in his 
famous criticism of female preaching. " Sir, 
a woman's preaching is like a dog walking on 
its hind legs. It is not done well, but you are 
surprised to find it done at all." It is a senti- 


ment which, in one form or another, prevailed 
throughout the last century, and lapped over 
into the middle of our own. Miss Mitford is 
merely echoing, with cheerful humor, the 
opinions of the very clever and distinguished 
men whom it was her good fortune to know, 
and who were all the more generous to her 
and to her sister toilers, because it did not 
occur to them for a moment that women 
claimed, or were ever going to claim, a serious 
place by their sides. There is nothing clearer, 
in reading the courteous and often flattering 
estimate of woman's work which the critics of 
fifty years ago delighted in giving to the 
world, than the under-current of amusement 
that such things should be going on. Chris- 
topher North, who has only censure and con- 
tempt for the really great poets of his day, is 
pleased to lavish kind words on Mrs. Hemans 
and Joanna Baillie, praising them as adults 
occasionally praise clever and good children. 
That neither he nor his boon companions of 
the " Noctes " are disposed to take the matter 
seriously, is sufficiently proved by North's gal- 
lant but controvertible statement that all 
female poets are handsome. " No truly ugly 


woman ever yet wrote a truly beautiful poem 
the length of her little finger." The same 
satiric enjoyment of the situation is apparent 
in Thackeray's description of Barnes New- 
come's lecture on " Mrs. Hemans, and the Poe- 
try of the Affections," as delivered before the 
appreciative audience of the Newcome Athe- 
naeum. The distinction which the lecturer 
draws between man's poetry and woman's poe- 
try, the high-flown civility with which he 
treats the latter, the platitudes about the Chris- 
tian singer appealing to the affections, and 
decorating the homely threshold, and wreath- 
ing flowers around the domestic hearth ; — all 
these graceful and generous nothings are the 
tributes laid without stint at the feet of that 
fragile creature known to our great-grand- 
fathers as the female muse. 

It may as well be admitted at once that this 
tone of combined diversion and patronage has 
changed. Men, having come in the course of 
years to understand that women desire to work, 
and need to work, honestly and well, have 
made room for them with simple sincerity, and 
stand ready to compete with them for the cov- 
eted prizes of life. This is all that can in fair- 


ness be demanded ; and, if we are not equipped 
for the struggle, we must expect to be beaten, 
until we are taught, as Napoleon taught the 
Allies, how to fight. We gain nothing by do- 
ing for ourselves what man has ceased to do 
for us, — setting up little standards of our own, 
and rapturously applauding one another when 
the easy goal is reached. We gain nothing by 
withdrawing ourselves from the keenest com- 
petition, because we know we shall be outdone. 
We gain nothing by posing as " women 
workers," instead of simply " workers ; " or by 
separating our productions, good or bad, from 
the productions, good or bad, of men. As for 
exacting any special consideration on the score 
of sex, that is not merely an admission of 
failure in the present, but of hopelessness for 
the future. If we are ever to accomplish any- 
thing admirable, it must be by a frank admis- 
sion of severe tests. There is no royal road 
for woman's feet to follow. 

As we stand now, our greatest temptation 
to mediocrity lies in our misleading content ; 
and this content is fostered by our incorrigible 
habit of considering ourselves a little aside 
from the grand march of human events. Why 


should a new magazine be entitled " Woman's 
Progress," as if the progress of woman were 
one thing, and the progress of man another ? 
If we are two friendly sexes working hand in 
hand, how is it possible for either to progress 
alone ? Why should I be asked to take part in a 
very animated discussion on " What constitutes 
the success of woman ? " Woman succeeds 
just as man succeeds, through force of charac- 
ter. She has no minor tests, or, if she has, 
they are worthless. Above all, why should we 
have repeated the pitiful mistake of putting 
woman's work apart at the World's Fair, as 
though its interest lay in its makers rather 
than in itself. Philadelphia did this seven- 
teen years ago, but in seventeen years women 
should have better learned their own worth. 
Miss Mitford's sentence, with its italicized 
" considering," might have been written around 
the main gallery of the Woman's Building, 
instead of that curious jumble of female names 
with its extraordinary suggestion of perspec- 
tive, — Mme. de Stael and Mrs. Potter Palmer, 
Pocahontas and Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. The 
erection of such a building was a tacit ac- 
knowledgment of inferior standards, and 


therein lies our danger. All that was good 
and valuable beneath its roof should have been 
placed elsewhere, standing side by side with 
the similar work of men. All that was un- 
worthy of such competition should have been 
excluded, as beneath our dignity, as well 
as beneath the dignity of the Exposi- 
tion. Patchwork quilts in fifteen thousand 
pieces, paper flowers, nicely stitched aprons, 
and badly painted little memorandum-books 
do not properly represent the attitude of the 
ability of women. We are not begging for 
consideration and applause ; we are striving 
to do our share of the world's work, and to do 
it as well as men. 

Shall we ever succeed? It is not worth 
while to ask ourselves a question which none 
can answer. Reasoning by analogy, we never 
shall. Hoping in the splendid possibilities of 
an unknown future, we may. But idle conten- 
tion over what has been done already is not 
precisely the best method of advance. To 
wrangle for months over the simple and ob- 
vious statement that there have been no great 
women poets, is a lamentable waste of energy, 
and leads to no lasting good. To examine 


with fervent self -consciousness the exact result 
of every little step we take, the precise atti- 
tude of the world toward us, while we take it, 
is a retarding and unwholesome process. 
Why should an indefatigable philanthropist, 
like Miss Frances Power Cobbe, have paused 
in her noble labor to write such a fretful sen- 
tence as this ? 

" It is a difficult thing to keep in mind the 
true dignity of womanhood, in face of the 
deep, underlying contempt wherewith all but 
the most generous of men regard us." 

Perhaps they do, though the revelation is a 
startling one, and the last thing we had ever 
suspected. Nevertheless, the sincere and sin- 
gle-minded worker is not asking herself anxious 
questions anent man's contempt, but is pre- 
serving " the true dignity of womanhood " by 
going steadfastly on her appointed road, and 
doing her daily work as well as in her lies. 
Neither does she consider the conversion of 
man to a less scornful frame of mind as the 
just reward of her labors. She has other and 
broader interests at stake. For my own part, 
I have a liking for those few writers who are 
admirably explicit in their contempt for wo- 


men, and I find them more interesting and 
more stimulating than the " generous " men 
who stand forth as the champions of our 
sex, and are insufferably patronizing in their 
championship. When Schopenhauer says 
distinctly that women are merely grown-up 
babies, short-sighted, frivolous, and occupying 
an intermediate stage between children and 
men ; when he protests vigorously against the 
absurd social laws which permit them to share 
the rank and titles of their husbands, and in- 
sists that all they require is to be well fed 
and clothed, I feel a sincere respect for this 
honest statement of unpopular and somewhat 
antiquated views. Lord Byron, it will be re- 
membered, professed the same opinions, but 
his ingenuousness is by no means so apparent. 
Edward Fitzgerald's distaste for women writers 
is almost winning in its gentle candor. Rus- 
kin, despite his passionate chivalry, reiterates 
with tireless persistence his belief that woman 
is man's helpmate, and no more. Theoreti- 
cally, he is persuasive and convincing. Prac- 
tically, he is untouched by the obtrusive fact 
that many thousands of women are never called 
on to be the helpmates of any men, fathers, 


brothers, or husbands, but must stand or fall 
alone. Upon their learning to stand depends 
much of the material comfort, as well as the 
finer morality, of the future. 

And surely, the first and most needful les- 
son for them to acquire is to take themselves 
and their work with simplicity, to be a little 
less self-conscious, and a little more sincere. 
In all walks of life, in all kinds of labor, this 
is the beginning of excellence, and proficiency 
follows in its wake. We talk so much about 
thoroughness of training, and so little about 
singleness of purpose. We give to every girl in 
our public schools the arithmetical knowledge 
which enables her to stand behind a counter 
and cast up her accounts. That there is some- 
thing else which we do not give her is suf- 
ficiently proven by her immediate adoption of 
that dismal word, " saleslady," with its pitiful 
assumption of what is not, its pitiful disregard 
of dignity and worth. I own I am dispirited 
when I watch the more ambitious girls who 
attend our great schools of manual training 
and industrial art. They are being taught on 
generous and noble lines. The elements of 
beauty and appropriateness enter into their 


hourly work. And yet — their tawdry finery, 
the nodding flower-gardens on their hats, the 
gilt ornaments in their hair, the soiled kid 
gloves too tight for their broad young hands, 
the crude colors they combine so pitilessly in 
their attire, their sweeping and bedraggled 
skirts, their shrill, unmodulated voices, their 
giggles and ill-controlled restlessness — are 
these the outward and visible results of a 
training avowedly refining and artistic ? Are 
these the pupils whose future work is to raise 
the standard of beauty and harmonious devel- 
opment ? Something is surely lacking which 
no technical skill can supply. Now, as in the 
past, character is the base upon which all true 
advancement rests secure. 

Higher in the social and intellectual scale, 
and infinitely more serious in their ambitions, 
are the girl students of our various colleges. 
As their numbers increase, and their superior 
training becomes less and less a matter of 
theory, and more and more a matter of course, 
these students will combine at least a portion 
of their present earnestness with the healthy 
commonplace rationality of college men. At 
present they are laboring under the disadvan- 


tage of being the exceptions instead of the 
rule. The novelty of their position dazes 
them a little ; and, like the realistic story-tell- 
ers and the impressionist painters, they 
are perhaps more occupied with their points 
of view than with the things they are 
viewing. This is not incompatible with a 
very winning simplicity of demeanor, and the 
common jest which represents the college girl 
as prickly with the asperities of knowledge, is 
a fabric of man's jocund and inexhaustible im- 
agination. Mr. Barrie, it is true, tells a very 
amusing story of being invited, as a mere lad, 
to meet some young women students at an 
Edinburgh party, and of being frightened out 
of his scanty self-possession when one of them 
asked him severely whether he did not con- 
sider that Berkeley's immaterialism was 
founded on an ontological misconception. 
But even Mr. Barrie has a fertile fancy, and 
perhaps the experience was not quite so bad 
as it sounds. There is more reason in the 
complaint I have heard many times from mo- 
thers, that college gives their daughters a 
distaste for social life, and a rather ungracious 
disregard for its amenities and obligations. 


But college does not give men a distaste for 
social life. On the contrary, it is the best 
possible training for that bigger, broader field 
in which the ceaseless contact with their fel- 
low-creatures rounds and perfects the many- 
sidedness of manhood. If college girls are 
disposed to overestimate the importance of 
lectures, and to underestimate the importance 
of balls, this is merely a transient phase of 
criticism, and has no lasting significance. Lec- 
tures and balls are both very old. They have 
played their parts in the history of the world 
for some thousands of years ; they will go on 
playing them to the end. Let us not exagger- 
ate personal preference, however contagious it 
may appear, into a symbol of approaching re- 

For our great hope is this: As university 
training becomes less and less exceptional for 
girls, they will insensibly acquire broader and 
simpler views ; they will easily understand 
that life is too big a thing to be judged by 
college codes. As the number of women doc- 
tors and women architects increases with every 
year, they will take themselves, and be taken 
by the world, with more simplicity and candor. 


They will also do much better work when we 
have ceased writing papers, and making 
speeches, to signify our wonder and delight 
that they should be able to work at all ; when 
we have ceased patting and praising them as 
so many infant prodigies. Perhaps the time 
may even come when women, mixing freely in 
political life, will abandon that injured and 
aggressive air which distinguishes the present 
advocate of female suffrage. Perhaps, oh, 
joyous thought ! the hour may arrive when 
women having learned a few elementary facts 
of physiology, will not deem it an imperative 
duty to embody them at once in an unwhole- 
some novel. These unrestrained disclosures 
which are thrust upon us with such curious 
zest, are the ominous fruits of a crude and 
hasty mental development ; but there are some 
sins which even ignorance can only partially 
excuse. Things seen in the light of ampler 
knowledge have a different aspect, and bear 
a different significance ; but the " fine and 
delicate moderation " which Mme. de Souza 
declared to be woman's natural gift, should 
preserve her, even when semi-instructed, from 
all gross offences against good taste. More- 

AUT CjESAR aut nihil. 73 

over " whatever emancipates our minds with- 
out giving us the mastery of ourselves is de- 
structive," and if the intellectual freedom of 
woman is to be a noble freedom it must not 
degenerate into the privilege of thinking what- 
ever she likes, and saying whatever she pleases. 
That instinctive refinement which she has ac- 
quired in centuries of self-repression is not a 
quality to be undervalued, or lightly thrust 
aside. If she loses " the strength that lies in 
delicacy," she is weaker in her social emanci- 
pation than in her social bondage. 

The word " Virago," in the Kenaissance, 
meant a woman of culture, character, and 
charm ; a " man-like maiden " who combined 
the finer qualities of both sexes. The gradual 
debasement of a word into a term of reproach 
is sometimes a species of scandal. It is wil- 
fully perverted in the course of years, and 
made to tell a different tale, — a false tale, 
probably, — which generations receive as true. 
On the other hand, it sometimes marks the 
swift degeneracy of a lofty ideal. In either 
case, the shame and pity are the same. Hap- 
pily, as we are past the day when men looked 
askance upon women's sincere efforts at ad- 


vancement, so we are past the day when wo- 
men deemed it profitable to ape distinctly 
masculine traits. We have outgrown the first 
rude period of abortive and misdirected 
energy, but it does not follow that the millen- 
nium has been reached. Mr. Arnold has ven- 
tured to say that the best spiritual fruit of 
culture is to keep man from a self-satisfaction 
which is retarding and vulgarizing, yet no one 
recognized more clearly than he the ungra- 
cious nature of the task. What people really 
like to be told is that they are doing all things 
well, and have nothing to learn from anybody. 
This is the reiterated message from the gods 
of which the daily press delivers itself so sapi- 
ently, and by which it maintains its popularity 
and power. This is the tone of all the nice 
little papers about woman's progress, and wo- 
man's work, and woman's influence, and wo- 
man's recent successes in literature, science, 
and art. " I gain nothing by being with such 
as myself," sighed Charles Lamb, with noble 
discontent. " We encourage one another in 
mediocrity" This is what we women are do- 
ing with such apparent satisfaction; we are 
encouraging one another in mediocrity. We 


are putting up easy standards of our own, in 
place of the best standards of men. We are 
sating our vanity with small and ignoble tri- 
umphs, instead of struggling on, defeated, 
routed, but unconquered still, with hopes high 
set upon the dazzling mountain-tops which we 
may never reach. 


Heinrich Heine, who had a particularly- 
nice and discriminating taste in ghosts, and 
who studied with such delicate pleasure the 
darkly woven fancies of German superstition, 
frankly admitted that to see his own face by- 
moonlight in a mirror thrilled him with inde- 
finable horror. Most of us who are blessed, 
or burdened, with imaginations have shared at 
moments in this curious fear of that smooth, 
shining sheet of glass, which seems to hold 
within itself some power mysterious and ma- 
lign. By daytime it is commonplace enough, 
and lends itself with facile ease to the cheerful 
and homely nature of its surroundings. But 
at dusk, at night, by lamplight, or under the 
white, insinuating moonbeams, the mirror as- 
sumes a distinctive and uncanny character 
of its own. Then it is that it reflects that 
which we shrink from seeing. Then it is that 
our own eyes meet us with an unnatural stare 
and a piercing intelligence, as if another soul 


were watching us from their depths with fur- 
tive, startled inquiry. Then it is that the in- 
visible something in the room, from which the 
merciful dullness of mortality has hitherto 
saved us, may at any instant take sudden 
shape, and be seen, not in its own form, but 
reflected in the treacherous glass, which, like 
the treacherous water, has the power of be- 
traying things that the air, man's friendly 
element, refuses to reveal. 

This wise mistrust of the ghostly mirror is so 
old and so far spread that we meet with it in 
the folk lore of every land. An English tra- 
dition warns us that the new moon, which 
brings us such good fortune when we look at 
it in the calm evening sky, carries a message 
of evil to those who see it first reflected in a 
looking-glass. For such unlucky mortals the 
lunar virus distils slow poison and corroding 
care. The child who is suffered to see his 
own image in a mirror before he is a year old 
is marked out for trouble and many disappoint- 
ments. The friends who glance at their reflec- 
tions standing side by side are doomed to 
quick dissension. The Swedish girl who looks 
into her glass by candlelight risks the loss of 


her lover. A universal superstition, which 
has found its way even to our own prosaic 
time and country, forbids a bride to see her- 
self in a mirror after her toilet is completed. 
If she be discreet, she turns away from that 
fair picture which pleases her so well, and 
then draws on her glove, or has some tiny rib- 
bon, flower, or jewel fastened to her gown, that 
the sour Fates may be appeased, and evil 
averted from her threshold. In Warwickshire 
and other parts of rural England it was long 
the custom to cover all the looking-glasses in a 
house of death, lest some affrighted mortal 
should behold in one the pale and shrouded 
corpse standing by his side. There is a 
ghastly story of a servant maid who, on leav- 
ing the chamber where her dead master lay, 
glanced in the uncovered mirror, and saw the 
sheeted figure on the bed beckoning her rig- 
idly to its side. 

Some such tale as this must have been told 
me in my infancy, for in no other way can I 
account for the secret terror I felt for the 
little oval mirror which hung by my bed at 
school. Every night I turned it carefully 
with its face to the wall, lest by some evil 


chance I should arise and look in it. Every 
night I was tormented with the same haunting 
notion that I had not remembered to turn it ; 
and then, shivering with cold and fright, I 
would creep out of bed, and, with averted 
head and tightly shut eyes, feel my way to the 
wretched thing, and assure myself of what I 
knew already, that its harmless back alone 
confronted me. I never asked myself what 
it was I feared to see ; — some face that was 
not mine, some apparition born of the dark- 
ness and of my own childish terror. Nor can 
I truly say that this apprehension, inconven- 
ient though it seemed on chilly winter nights, 
did not carry with it a vague, sweet pleasure 
of its own. Little girls of eleven may be no 
better nor wiser for the scraps of terrifying 
folk lore which formed part of my earliest 
education, yet in one respect, at least, I tri- 
umphed by their aid. Even the somewhat 
spiritless monotony of a convent school was 
not without its vivifying moments for a child 
who carried to bed with her each night a 
horde of goblin fears to keep her imagination 

Superstitions of a less ghostly character 


cluster around the mirror, and are familiar to 
us all. To break one is everywhere an evil 
omen. " Seven years' trouble, but no want," 
follow fast upon such a mishap in Yorkshire, 
while in Scotland, the cracking of a looking- 
glass, like the falling of the doomed man's 
picture from the wall, is a presage of ap- 
proaching death. Such portents as these, 
however, — though no one who is truly wise 
presumes to treat them with levity, — are 
powerless to thrill us with that indefinable 
and subtle horror which springs from cause- 
less emotions. Scott, in his prologue to " Aunt 
Margaret's Mirror," has well defined the pecu- 
liar fear which is without reason and without 
cure. The old lady who makes her servant 
maid draw a curtain over the glass before she 
enters her bedroom, u so that she " (the maid) 
" may have the first shock of the apparition, 
if there be any to be seen," is of far too prac- 
tical a turn to trouble herself about the ra- 
tionality of her sensations. " Like many 
other honest folk," she does not like to look 
at her own reflection by candlelight, because 
it is an eerie thing to do. Yet the tale she 
tells of the Paduan doctor and his magic mir- 


ror is, on the other hand, neither interesting 
nor alarming. It has all the dreary qualities 
of a psychical research report which cannot 
even provoke us to a disbelief. 

In fact, divining-crystals, when known as 
such professionally, are tame, hard-working, 
almost respectable institutions. In the good 
old days of necromancy, magicians had no 
need of such mechanical appliances. Any re- 
flecting surface would serve their turn, and a 
bowl of clear water was enough to reveal to 
them all that they wanted to know. It was of 
more importance, says Brand, " to make choice 
of a young maid to discern therein those im- 
ages or visions which a person defiled cannot 
see." Even the famous mirror, through whose 
agency Dr. Dee and his seer, Kelly, were said 
to have discovered the Gunpowder Plot, was 
in reality nothing more than a black polished 
stone, closely resembling coal. 

" Kelly did all his feats upon 
The devil's looking-glass, a stone." 

Yet in an old Prayer-Book of 1737 there is a 
woodcut representing the king and Sir Ken- 
elm Digby gazing into a circular mirror, in 
which are reflected the Houses of Parliament, 


and a man entering them with a dark lantern 
in his hand. Above, the eye of Providence is 
seen darting a ray of light upon the mirror. 
Below are legs and hoofs, as of evil spirits fly- 
ing rapidly away. The truth is, so many con- 
flicting details are related of Dr. Dee's useful 
and benevolent possession that it has lost a lit- 
tle* of its vraisemblance. We are wont to 
rank it confusedly with such mystic treasures 
as the mirror which told the fortunate Alas- 
nam whether or not a maid were as chaste as 
she was beautiful, or the glass which Reynard 
described with such minute and charming 
falsehoods to the royal lioness, who would fain 
have gratified her curiosity by a sight of its 
indiscreet revelations. 

It is never through magic mirrors, nor crys- 
tal balls, nor any of the paraphernalia now so 
abundantly supplied by painstaking students 
of telepathy that we approach that shadowy 
land over which broods perpetual fear. Let 
us rather turn meekly back to the fairy-taught 
minister of Aberfoyle, and learn of him the 
humiliating truth that " every drop of water 
is a Mirrour to returne the Species of Things, 
were our visive Faculty sharpe enough to ap- 


prehend them." In other words, we stand in 
need, not of elaborate appliances, but of a 
chastened spirit. If we seek the supernatural 
with the keen apprehension which is begotten 
of credulity and awe, we shall never find our- 
selves disappointed in our quest. The same 
reverend authority tells us that " in a Witch's 
Eye the Beholder cannot see his own Image 
reflected, as in the Eyes of other people," 
which is an interesting and, it may be, a very 
useful thing to know. 

Two curious stories having relation to the 
ghostly character of the mirror will best serve 
to illustrate my text. The first is found in 
Shelley's journal; one of the inexhaustible 
store supplied to the poet by " Monk " Lewis, 
and is about a German lady who, dancing with 
her lover at a ball, saw in a glass the reflec- 
tion of her dead husband gazing at her with 
stern, reproachful eyes. She is said to have 
died of terror. The second tale is infinitely 
more picturesque. In the church of Santa 
Maria Novella at Florence is the beautiful 
tomb of Beata Villana, the daughter of a no- 
ble house, and married in extreme youth to 
one of the family of Benintendi. Tradition 


says that she was very fair, and that, being 
arrayed one night for a festival, she stood 
looking long in the mirror, allured by her own 
loveliness. Suddenly her eyes were opened, 
and she saw, close by her side, a demon 
dressed with costly raiment like her own, and 
decked with shining jewels like those she wore 
upon her arms and bosom. Appalled by this 
vision of evil, Beata Villana fled from the 
vanities of the world, and sought refuge in a 
convent, where she died a holy death in 1360, 
being then but twenty-eight years of age. 
Her marble effigy rests on its carven bed in 
the old Florentine church, and smiling angels 
draw back the curtains to show her sweet, 
dead beauty, safe at last from the perilous 
paths of temptation. In such a legend as this 
there lingers for us still the elements of mys- 
tery and of horror which centuries of prosaic 
progress are powerless to alienate from that 
dumb witness of our silent, secret hours, the 


There is a delightful story, which we owe 
to Charles Lever's splendid mendacity, of an 
old English lady who sent to Garibaldi, dur- 
ing that warrior's confinement at Varignano, a 
portly pincushion well stocked with British 
pins. Her enthusiastic countrywomen had 
already supplied their idol with woolen under- 
wear, and fur-lined slippers, and intoxicating 
beverages, and other articles equally useful to 
an abstemious prisoner of war in a hot cli- 
mate ; but pins had been overlooked until this 
thoughtful votary of freedom offered her trib- 
ute at its shine. 

Absurd though the tale appears, it has its 
counterparts in more sober annals, and few 
men of any prominence have not bewailed at 
times their painful popularity. Sir Walter 
Scott, who was the recipient of many gifts, 
had his fair share of vexatious experiences, 
and laughs at them somewhat ruefully now 
and then in the pages of his journal. Eight 


large and very badly painted landscapes, " in 
great gilded frames," were given him by one 
"most amiable and accomplished old lady." 
She had ordered them from an impoverished 
amateur whom she desired to befriend, and 
then palmed them off on Sir Walter, who was 
too gentle and generous to protest. A more 
"whimsical subject of affliction ' was the 
presentation of two emus by a Mr. Harmer, 
a settler in Botany Bay, to whom Scott had 
given some useful letters of introduction. 
" I wish his gratitude had either taken a 
different turn, or remained as quiescent as 
that of others whom I have obliged more 
materially," writes Sir Walter in his jour- 
nal. "I at first accepted the creatures, 
conceiving them, in my ignorance, to be 
some sort of blue and green parrots, which, 
though I do not admire their noise, might 
scream and yell at their pleasure, if hung 
up in the hall among the armor. But your 
emu, it seems, stands six feet high on his 
stocking soles, and is little better than a 
kind of cassowary or ostrich. Hang them ! 
They might eat up my collection of old 
arms, for what I know." 

GIFTS. 87 

Finally, like the girl who was converted 
at a revival, and who gave her blue ribbons 
to her sister because she knew they were 
taking her to hell, Scott got himself out 
of the scrape by passing on the emus, as 
a sort of feudal offering, to the Duke of 
Buccleugh, and leaving that nobleman to 
solve as best he could the problem of their 
maintenance. The whole story is very much 
like the experience of Mr. James Payn's law- 
yer friend, to whom a " grateful orphan " 
sent from the far East a dromedary, with 
the pleasant assurance that its hump was 
considered extremely delicate eating. As 
this highly respected member of the Lon- 
don bar could not well have the dromedary 
butchered for the sake of its hump, — 
even if he had yearned over the dish, — 
and as he was equally incapable of riding 
the beast to his office every morning, he 
considered himself fortunate when the Zoo- 
logical Gardens opened their hospitable gates 
and the orphan's tribute disappeared therein, 
to be seen and heard of no more. 

Charles Lamb, on the other hand, if we 
may trust the testimony of his letters, 


appears to have derived a keen and kindly 
pleasure from the more reasonable and mod- 
est presents of his friends. Perhaps, like 
Steele, he looked upon it as a point of 
morality to be obliged to those who endeav- 
ored to oblige him. Perhaps it was easy 
for one so lovable to detect the honest affec- 
tion which inspired these varied gifts. It 
is certain we find him returning genial 
thanks, now to Hazlitt for a pig, now to 
Wordsworth for a " great armful " of poetry, 
and now to Thomas Allsop for some Stilton 
cheese, — " the delicatest, rainbow-hued, melt- 
ing piece I ever flavored." He seems equally 
gratified with an engraving of Pope sent by 
Mr. Procter, and with another pig, — "a 
dear pigmy," he calls it, — the gift of 
Mrs. Bruton. Nor is it only in these let- 
ters of acknowledgment — wherein courtesy 
dispenses occasionally with the companion- 
ship of truth — that Lamb shows himself 
a generous recipient of his friends' good 
will. He writes to Wordsworth, who has 
sent him nothing, and expresses his frank 
delight in some fruit which has been left 
early that morning at his door : — 

GIFTS. 89 

" There is something inexpressibly pleas- 
ant to me in these presents, be it fruit, 
or fowl, or brawn, or what not. Books are 
a legitimate cause of acceptance. If pre- 
sents be not the soul of friendship, they 
are undoubtedly the most spiritual part 
of the body of that intercourse. There is 
too much narrowness of thinking on this 
point. The punctilio of acceptance, me- 
thinks, is too confined and strait-laced. I 
could be content to receive money, or 
clothes, or a joint of meat from a friend. 
Why should he not send me a dinner as well 
as a desert ? I would taste him in all the 
beasts of the field, and through all creation. 
Therefore did the basket of fruit of the 
juvenile Talfourdnot displease me." 

It is hard not to envy Talfourd when one 
reads these lines. It is hard not to envy 
any one who had the happiness of giving 
fruit, or cheese, or pigs to Charles Lamb. 
How gladly would we all have brought our 
offerings to his door, and have gone away 
with bounding hearts, exulting in the 
thought that our pears would deck his 
table, our pictures his wall, our books his 


scanty shelves ! " People seldom read a 
book which is given to them," observes 
Dr. Johnson, with his usual discouraging 
acumen ; but Lamb found leisure, amid 
heavy toil, to peruse the numerous volumes 
which small poets as well as big ones thought 
fit to send him. He accepted his gifts with 
a charming munificence which suggests those 
far-off, fabulous days when presents were 
picturesque accessories of life ; when hosts 
gave to their guests the golden cups from 
which they had been drinking; and sultans 
gave their visitors long trains of female 
slaves, all beautiful, and carrying jars of 
jewels upon their heads ; and Merlin gave 
to Gwythnothe famous hamper which mul- 
tiplied its contents an hundredfold, and fed 
the starving hosts in storm-swept Caradi- 
gion. In those brave years, large-hearted 
men knew how to accept as well as how to 
give, and they did both with an easy grace 
for which our modern methods offer no ade- 
quate opportunity. Even in the veracious 
chronicles of hagiology, the old harmonious 
sentiment is preserved, and puts us to the 
blush. St. Martin sharing his cloak with 

GIFTS. 91 

the beggar at the gates of Tours was hardly 
what we delight in calling practical; yet 
not one shivering outcast only, but all man- 
kind would have been poorer had that man- 
tle been withheld. King Canute taking off 
his golden crown, and laying it humbly on 
St. Edmund's shrine, stirs our hearts a little 
even now; while Queen Victoria sending 
fifty pounds to a deserving charity excites 
in us no stronger sentiment than esteem. 
It was easier, perhaps, for a monarch to do 
a gracious and a princely deed when his 
crown and sceptre were his own property 
instead of belonging to the state ; and pic- 
turesqueness, ignore it as we may, is a 
quality which, like distinction, " fixes the 
world's ideals." 

These noble and beautiful benefactions, 
however, are not the only ones which linger 
pleasantly in our memories. Gifts there 
have been, of a humble and domestic kind, 
the mere recollection of which is a continual 
delight. I love to think of Jane Austen's 
young sailor brother, her "own particular 
little brother," Charles, spending his first 
prize money in gold chains and "topaze 


crosses " for his sisters. What prettier, 
warmer picture can be called to mind than 
this handsome, gallant, light-hearted lad — 
handsomer, Jane jealously insists, than 
all the rest of the family — bringing back 
to his quiet country home these innocent tro- 
phies of victory ? Surely it was the pleasure 
Miss Austen felt in that "topaze" cross, 
that little golden chain, which found such 
eloquent expression in Fanny Price's 
mingled rapture and distress when her 
sailor brother brought her the amber cross 
from Sicily, and Edmund Bertram offered 
her, too late, the chain on which to hang 
it. It is a splendid reward that lies in 
wait for boyish generosity when the sister 
chances to be one of the immortals, and 
hands down to generations of readers the 
charming record of her gratitude and love. 

By the side of this thoroughly English pic- 
ture should be placed, in justice and in har- 
mony, another which is as thoroughly 
German, — Eahel Varnhagen sending to 
her brother money to bring him to Berlin. 
The letter which accompanies this sisterly 
gift is one of the most touching in literature. 

GIFTS. 93 

The brilliant, big-hearted woman is yearning 
for her kinsman's face. She has saved the 
trifling sum required through many unnamed 
denials. She gives it as generously as if it 
cost her nothing. Yet with that wise thrift 
which goes hand in hand with liberality, she 
warns her brother that her husband knows 
nothing of the matter. Not that she mistrusts 
his nature for a moment. He is good and 
kind, but he is also a man, and has the custom- 
ary shortsightedness of his sex. "He will 
think," she writes, "that I have endless 
resources, that I am a millionaire, and will 
forget to economize in the future." 

Ah, painful frugality of the poor Father- 
land ! Here is nothing picturesque, nor lav- 
ish, nor light-hearted, to tempt our jocund 
fancies. Yet here, as elsewhere, the gener- 
ous soul refuses to be stinted of its joy ; and 
the golden crown of King Canute is not more 
charming to contemplate than are the few 
coins wrested from sordid needs, and given 
with a glad munificence which makes them 
splendid as the ransom of a prince. 


Nations, like individuals, stand self-be- 
trayed in their pastimes and their jests. The 
ancient historians recognized this truth, and 
thought it well worth their while to gossip 
pleasantly into the ears of attentive and grate- 
ful generations. Cleopatra playfully outwit- 
ting Anthony by fastening a salted fish to the 
boastful angler's hook is no less clear to us 
than Cleopatra sternly outwitting Caesar with 
the poison of the asp, and we honor Plutarch 
for confiding both these details to the world. 
Their verity has nothing to do with their 
value or our satisfaction. The mediaeval 
chroniclers listened rapturously to the clamor 
of battle, and found all else but war too trivial 
for their pens. The modern scholar produces 
that pitiless array of facts known as constitu- 
tional history ; and labors under the strange 
delusion that acts of Parliament, or acts of 
Congress, reform bills, and political pamphlets 
represent his country's life. If this sordid 


devotion to the concrete suffers no abatement, 
the intelligent reader of the future will be 
compelled to reconstruct the nineteenth century 
from the pages of " Punch " and " Life," from 
faded play-bills, the records of the race-track, 
and the inextinguishable echo of dead laughter. 
For man lives in his recreations, and is re- 
vealed to us by the search-light of an epigram. 
Humor, in one form or another, is character- 
istic of every nation ; and reflecting the salient 
points of social and national life, it illuminates 
those crowded corners which history leaves 
obscure. The laugh that we enjoy at our own 
expense betrays us to the rest of the world, 
and the humorists of England and America 
have been long employed in pointing out with 
derisive fingers their own, and not their neigh- 
bor's shortcomings. If we are more reckless 
in our satire, and more amused at our own 
wit, it is because we are better tempered, and 
newer to the game. The delight of being a 
nation, and a very big nation at that, has not 
yet with us lost all the charm of novelty, and 
we pelt one another with ridicule after the 
joyously aggressive fashion of schoolboys pelt- 
ing one another with snowballs. Already 


there is a vast array of seasoned and recog- 
nized jokes which are leveled against every 
city in the land. The culture of Boston, the 
slowness of Philadelphia, the ostentation of 
New York, the arrogance and ambition of 
Chicago, the mutual jealousy of Minneapolis 
and St. Paul, — these are themes of which the 
American satirist never wearies, these are 
characteristics which he has striven, with some 
degree of success, to make clear to the rest of 
mankind. Add to them our less justifiable 
diversion at official corruption and misman- 
agement, our glee over the blunders and ras- 
calities of the men whom we permit to govern 
us, and we have that curious combination of 
keenness and apathy, of penetration and in- 
difference which makes possible American 

Now Englishmen, however prone to laugh 
at their own foibles, do not, as a rule, take their 
politics lightly. Those whom I have known 
were most depressingly serious when discuss- 
ing the situation with friends, and most dis- 
agreeably violent when by chance they met 
an opponent. Neither do they see anything 
funny in being robbed by corporations ; but, 


with discouraging and unhumorous tenacity, 
exact payment of the last farthing of debt, 
fulfilment of the least clause in a charter. 
Our lenity in such matters is a trait which 
they fail to understand, and are disinclined to 
envy. One of the most amusing scenes I ever 
witnessed was an altercation between an ex- 
ceedingly clever Englishwoman, who for years 
has taken a lively part in public measures, and 
a countrywoman of my own, deeply imbued 
with that gentle pessimism which insures con- 
tentment, and bars reform. The subject un- 
der discussion was the street-car service of 
Philadelphia (which would have been primi- 
tive for Asia Minor), and the Englishwoman 
was expressing in no measured terms her 
amazement at such comprehensive and un- 
qualified inefficiency. In vain my American 
friend explained to her that this car-service 
was one of the most diverting things about our 
Quaker city, that it represented one of those 
humorous details which gave Philadelphia its 
distinctly local color. The Englishwoman 
declined to be amused. " I do not understand 
you in the least," she said gravely. " You 
have a beautiful city, of which you should be 


proud. You have disgraceful streets and 
trams, of which you should be ashamed. Yet 
you ridicule your city as if you were ashamed 
of that, and defend your trams as if you were 
proud of them. If you think it funny to be 
imposed on, you will never be at a loss for a 

Yet corruption in office, like hypocrisy in 
religion, has furnished food for mirth ever 
since King Log and King Stork began their 
beneficent reigns. Diogenes complained that 
the people of Athens liked to have the things 
they should have held most dear pelted with 
dangerous banter. Kant found precisely the 
same fault with the French, and even the his- 
tory of sober England is enlivened by its share 
of such satiric laughter. " Wood was dear at 
Newmarket," said a wit, when Sir Henry Mon- 
tague received there the white staff which 
made him Lord High Treasurer of England, 
for which exalted honor he had paid King 
James the First full twenty thousand pounds. 
The jest sounds so light-hearted, so free from 
any troublesome resentment, that it might 
have been uttered in America ; but it is well 
to remember that such witticisms pointed un- 


erringly to the tragic downfall of the Stuarts. 
Indeed, the gayest laugh occasionally rings a 
death-knell, and so our humorists wield a 
power which could hardly be entrusted into 
better hands. " Punch " has the cleanest record 
of any English journal. It has ever — save 
for those perverse and wicked slips which cost 
it the friendship of stouthearted Richard 
Doyle — allied itself with honor and honesty, 
and that sane tolerance which is the basis of 
humor. " Life " has fought an even braver 
fight, and has been the active champion of all 
that is helpless and ill-treated, the advocate 
of all that is honorable and sincere. The 
little children who crawl, wasted and fever- 
stricken, through the heated city streets, the 
animals that pay with prolonged pain for the 
pleasures of scientific research, — these hap- 
less victims of our advanced civilization find 
their best friend in this New York comic paper. 
The girl whose youth and innocence are bar- 
tered for wealth in the open markets of matri- 
mony, sees no such vigorous protest against 
her degradation as in its wholesome pages. It 
is scant praise to say that " Life " does more 
to quicken charity, and to purify social corrup- 


tion than all the religious and ethical journals 
in the country. This is the natural result of 
its reaching the proper audience. It has the 
same beneficent effect that sermons would 
have if they were preached to the non-church- 
going people who require them. 

When we have learned to recognize the fact 
that humor does not necessarily imply fun, we 
will better understand the humorist's attitude 
and labors. There is nothing, as a rule, very 
funny, in the weekly issues of " Punch," and 
" Puck," and " Life." Many of the jokes ought 
to be explained in a key like that which ac- 
companied my youthful arithmetic ; and those 
which need no such deciphering are often so 
threadbare and feeble from hard usage, that 
it is scarcely decent to exact further service 
from them. It has been represented to us 
more than once that the English, being conser- 
vative in the matter of amusement, prefer 
those jests which, like " old Grouse in the gun- 
room," have grown seasoned in long years of 
telling. " Slow to understand a new joke," 
says Mrs. Pennell, " they are equally slow to 
part with one that has been mastered." But 
there are some time-honored jests — the young 


housekeeper's pie, for example, and the tramp 
who is unable to digest it — which even a con- 
servative American, if such an anomaly exists, 
would relinquish dry-eyed and smiling. It is 
not for such feeble waggery as this that we 
value our comic journals, but for those vital 
touches which illuminate and betray the tragic 
farce called life. " Punch's " cartoon depicting 
Bismarck as a discharged pilot, gloomily quit- 
ting the ship of state, while overhead the 
young emperor swaggers and smiles derisively, 
is in itself an epitome of history, a realization 
of those brief bitter moments which mark 
the turning-point of a nation and stand for the 
satire of success. " Life's " sombre picture of 
the young wife bowing her head despairingly 
over the piano, as though to shut out from her 
gaze her foolish, besotted husband, is an un- 
flinching delineation of the most sordid, pitiful 
and commonplace of all daily tragedies. In 
both these masterly sketches there is a grim 
humor, softened by kindliness, and this is the 
key-note of their power. They are as unlike 
as possible in subject and in treatment, but the 
undercurrent of human sympathy is the same. 
Is it worth while, then, to be so contentious 


over the superficial contrasts of English and 
American humor, when both spring from the 
same seed, and nourish the same fruit ? Why- 
should we resent one another's methods, or 
deny one another's success ? If, as our critics 
proudly claim, we Americans have a quicker 
perception of the ludicrous, the English have 
a finer standard by which to judge its worth. 
If we, as a nation, have more humor, they 
have better humorists, and can point serenely 
to those unapproached and unapproachable 
writers of the eighteenth century, whose splen- 
did ringing laughter still clears the murky air. 
It is true, I am told now and then, with com- 
mendable gravity, that such mirth is unbecom- 
ing in a refined and critical age, and that, if I 
would try a little harder to follow the some- 
what elusive satire of the modern analyst, I 
should enjoy a species of pleasantry too deli- 
cate or too difficult for laughter. I hesitate to 
affirm coarsely in reply that I like to laugh, 
because it is possible to be deeply humiliated 
by the contempt of one's fellow-creatures. It 
is possible also to be sadly confused by new 
theories and new standards ; by the people 
who tell me that exaggerated types, like Mr, 


Micawber and Mrs. Gamp, are not amusing, 
and by the critics who are so good as to reveal 
to me the depths of my own delusions. " We 
have long ago ceased to be either surprised, 
grieved, or indignant at anything the English 
say of us," writes Mr. Charles Dudley War- 
ner. " We have recovered our balance. We 
know that since ' Gulliver ' there has been no 
piece of original humor produced in England 
equal to Knickerbocker's 6 New York ; ' that 
not in this century has any English writer 
equaled the wit and satire of the ' Biglow Pa- 
pers.' " 

Does this mean that Mr. Warner considers 
Washington Irving to be the equal of Jona- 
than Swift ; that he places the gentle satire of 
the American alongside of those trenchant 
and masterly pages which constitute the land- 
marks of literature ? " Swift," says Dr. John- 
son, with reluctant truthfulness, " must be al- 
lowed for a time to have dictated the political 
opinions of the English nation." He is a 
writer whom we may be permitted to detest, 
but not to undervalue. His star, red as Mars, 
still flames fiercely in the horizon, while the 
genial lustre of Washington Irving grows 


dimmer year by year. We can never hope to 
" recover our balance " by confounding values, 
a process of self-deception which misleads no 
one but ourselves. 

Curiously enough, at least one Englishman 
may be found who cordially agrees with Mr- 
Warner. The Rev. R. H. Haweis has en- 
riched the world with a little volume on Amer- 
ican humorists, in which he kindly explains a 
great deal which we had thought tolerably 
clear already, as, for example, why Mark 
Twain is amusing. The authors whom Mr. 
Haweis has selected to illustrate his theme are 
Washington Irving, Dr. Holmes, Mr. Lowell, 
Artemus Ward, Mark Twain and Bret Harte ; 
and he arranges this somewhat motley group 
into a humorous round-table, where all hold 
equal rank. He is not only generous, he is 
strictly impartial in his praise ; and manifests 
the same cordial enthusiasm for Boston's "Au- 
tocrat " and for " The Innocents Abroad," 
Artemus Ward's remark to his hesitating au- 
dience : " Ladies and gentlemen ! You can- 
not expect to go in without paying your 
money, but you can pay your money without 
going in," delights our kindly critic beyond 


measure. "Was there ever a wittier motto 
than this ? " he asks, with such good-natured 
exultation that we have a vague sense of self- 
reproach at not being more diverted by the 

Now Mr. Haweis, guided by that dangerous 
instinct which drives us on to unwarranted 
comparisons, does not hesitate to link the 
fame of Knickerbocker's "New York" with 
the fame of " Gulliver's Travels," greatly to 
the disadvantage of the latter. " Irving," he 
gravely declares, "has all the satire of Swift, 
without his sour coarseness." It would be as 
reasonable to say, "Apollinaris has all the vi- 
vacity of brandy, without its corrosive insalu- 
brity." The advantages of Apollinaris are 
apparent at first sight. It sparkles pleasantly, 
it is harmless, it is refreshing, it can be con- 
sumed in large quantities without any partic- 
ular result. Its merits are ineontestible ; but 
when all is said, a few of us still remember 
Dr. Johnson — " Brandy, sir, is a drink for 
heroes ! ' 5 The robust virility of Swift places 
him forever at the head of English-speaking 
satirists. Unpardonable as is his coarseness, 
shameful as is his cynicism, we must still 


agree with Carlyle that his humor, "cased, 
like Ben Jonson's, in a most hard and bitter 
rind," is too genuine to be always unloving 
and malign. 

The truth is that, when not confused by 
critics, we Americans have a sense of propor- 
tion as well as a sense of humor, and our keen 
appreciation of a jest serves materially to mod- 
ify our national magniloquence, and to lessen 
our national self-esteem. We are good-tem- 
pered, too, where this humor is aroused, and 
so the frank ignorance of foreigners, the au- 
dacious disparagement of our fellow country- 
men, are accepted with equal serenity. News- 
papers deem it their duty to lash themselves 
into patriotic rage over every affront, but news- 
paper readers do not. Surely it is a generous 
nation that so promptly forgave Dickens for 
the diverting malice of " Martin Chuzzlewit." 
I heard once a young Irishman, who was going 
to the World's Fair, ask a young Englishman, 
who had been, if the streets of Chicago were 
paved, and the question was hailed with cour- 
teous glee by the few Americans present. Bet- 
ter still, I had the pleasure of listening to a 
citizen of Seattle, who was describing to a 


group of his townspeople the glories of the 
Fair, and the magnitude of the city which had 
brought it to such a triumphant conclusion. 
" Chicago, gentlemen," said this enthusiastic 
traveler in a burst of final eloquence, " Chi- 
cago is the Seattle of Illinois." The splendid 
audacity of this commended it as much to one 
city as to the other ; and when it was repeated 
in Chicago, it was received with that frank 
delight which proves how highly we value the 
blessed privilege of laughter. 

Perhaps it is our keener sense of humor 
which prompts America to show more honor 
to her humorists than England often grants. 
Perhaps it is merely because we are in the 
habit of according to all our men of letters a 
larger share of public esteem than a more cri- 
tical or richly endowed nation would think 
their labors merited. Perhaps our humorists 
are more amusing than their English rivals. 
Whatever may be the cause, it is un- 
doubtedly true that we treat Mr. Stockton 
with greater deference than England treats 
Mr. Anstey. We have illustrated articles 
about him in our magazines, and incidents of 
his early infancy are gravely narrated, as 



likely to interest the whole reading public. 
Now Mr. Anstey might have passed his 
infancy in an egg., for all the English maga- 
zines have to tell us on the subject. His 
books are bought, and read, and laughed over, 
and laid aside, and when there is a bitter ca- 
dence in his mirth, people are disappointed 
and displeased. England has always expected 
her jesters to wear the cap and bells. She 
would have nothing but foolish fun from 
Hood, sacrificing his finer instincts and his 
better parts on the shrine of her own ruthless 
desires, and yielding him scant return for the 
lifelong vassalage she exacted. It is fitting 
that an English humorist should have written 
the most sombre, the most heart-breaking, the 
most beautiful and consoling of tragic stories. 
Du Maurier in " Peter Ibbetson " has taught 
to England the lesson she needed to learn. 

The best-loved workers of every nation are 
those who embody distinctly national charac- 
teristics, whose work breathes a spirit of whole- 
some national prejudice, who are children of 
their own soil, and cannot, even in fancy, be 
associated with any other art or literature 
save the art or literature of their fatherland. 


This was the case with honest John Leech, 
whom England took to her heart and held 
dear because he was so truly English, because 
he despised Frenchmen, and mistrusted Irish- 
men, and hated Jews, and had a splendid 
British frankness in conveying these various 
impressions to the world. What would Leech 
have thought of Peter Ibbetson watching with 
sick heart the vessels bound for France ! 
What a contrast between the cultured sym- 
pathy of Du Maurier's beautiful drawings, 
and the real, narrow affection which Leech 
betrays even for his Staffordshire roughs, who 
are British roughs, be it rememberd, and not 
without their stanch and sturdy British vir- 
tues. He does not idealize them in any way. 
He is content to love them as they are. 
Neither does Mr. Barrie endeavor to describe 
Thrums as a place where any but Thrums 
people could ever have found life endurable ; 
yet he is as loyal in his affection for that for- 
bidding little hamlet as if it were Florence the 
fair. Bret Harte uses no alluring colors 
with which to paint his iniquitous mining 
camps, but he is the brother at heart of every 
gambler and desperado in the diggings. Hu- 


inanity is a mighty bond, and nationality 
strengthens its fibres. We can no more ima- 
gine Bret Harte amid Jane Austen's placid 
surroundings, than we can imagine Dr. 
Holmes in a mining-camp, or Henry Fielding 
in Boston. Just as the Autocrat springs 
from Puritan ancestors, and embodies the in- 
tellectual traditions of New England, so Tom 
Jones, in his riotous young manhood, springs 
from that lusty Saxon stock, of whose courage, 
truthfulness, and good-tempered animalism 
he stands the most splendid representative. 
" The old order is passed and the new arises ; ' : 
but Sophia Western has not yet yielded her 
place in the hearts of men to the morbid and 
self-centred heroines of modern fiction. Truest 
of all, is Charles Lamb who, more than any 
other humorist, more than any other man of 
letters, perhaps, belongs exclusively to his 
own land, and is without trace or echo of 
foreign influence. France was to Lamb, not 
a place where the finest prose is written, 
but a place where he ate frogs — " the 
nicest little delicate things — rabbity-flavored. 
Imagine a Lilliputian rabbit." Germany was 
little or nothing, and America was less. The 
child of London streets, 

" Mother of mightier, nurse of none more dear," 

rich in the splendid literature of England, and 
faithful lover both of the teeming city and the 
ripe old books, Lamb speaks to English hearts 
in a language they can understand. And we, 
his neighbors, whom he recked not of, hold 
him just as dear; for his spleenless humor is 
an inheritance of our mother tongue, one of the 
munificent gifts which England shares with us, 
and for which no payment is possible save the 
frank and generous recognition of a pleasure 
that is without peer. 


Mr. Frederick Harrison, in a caustic little 
paper on the ^Esthete, has taken occasion to 
say some severely truthful things anent the 
dreary grandeur of rich men's houses, where 
each individual object is charming in itself, 
and out of harmony with all the rest. " I be- 
lieve," he observes sadly, " that the camel will 
have passed through the eye of the needle 
before the rich man shall have found his way 
to enter the Kingdom of Beauty. It is a hard 
thing for him to enjoy art at all. The habits 
of the age convert him into a patron, and the 
assiduity of the dealers deprive him of peace." 

Is it, then, the mere desire to be obliging 
which induces a millionaire to surround him- 
self with things which he does not want, which 
nobody else wants, and which are perpetually 
in the way of comfort and pleasure ? Does he 
build and furnish his house to support the 
dealers, to dazzle his friends, or to increase his 


own earthly happiness and well-being ? The 
serious fashion in which he goes to work ad- 
mits of no backsliding, no merciful deviations 
from a relentless luxury. I have seen ghastly 
summer palaces, erected presumably for rest 
and recreation, where the miserable visitor was 
conducted from a Japanese room to a Dutch 
room, and thence to something Early English 
or Florentine ; and such a jumble of costly 
incongruities, of carved scrolls and blue tiles 
and bronze screens and stained glass, was 
actually dubbed a home. A home ! The guest, 
surfeited with an afternoon's possession, could 
escape to simpler scenes ; but the master of 
the house was chained to all that tiresome 
splendor for five months of the year, and the 
sole compensation he appeared to derive from 
it was the saturnine delight of pointing out to 
small processions of captive friends every de- 
tail which they would have preferred to over- 
look. It is a painful thing, at best, to live up 
to one's bricabrac, if one has any ; but to live 
up to the bricabrac of many lands and of many 
centuries is a strain which no wise man would 
dream of inflicting upon his constitution. 
Perhaps the most unlovely circumstance 


about the " palatial residences " of our coun- 
try is that everything in them appears to 
have been bought at once. Everything 
is equally new, and equally innocent of any 
imprint of the owner's personality. He has 
not lived among his possessions long enough 
to mould them to his own likeness, and very 
often he has not even selected them himself. 
I have known whole libraries purchased in a 
week, and placed en masse upon their des- 
tined shelves; whole rooms furnished at one 
fell swoop with all things needful, from the 
chandelier in the ceiling to the Dresden fig- 
ures in the cabinet. I have known people 
who either mistrusted their own tastes, or 
who had no tastes to mistrust, and so sur- 
rendered their houses to upholsterers and 
decorators, giving them carte blanche to do 
their best or worst. A room which has been 
the unresisting prey of an upholsterer is, on 
the whole, the saddest thing that money ever 
bought ; yet its deplorable completeness calls 
forth rapturous commendations from those 
who can understand no natural line of demar- 
cation between a dwelling-place and a shop. 
The same curious delight in handsome things. 


apart from any beauty or fitness, has resulted 
in our over-ornamented Pullman cars, with 
their cumbrous and stuffy hangings ; and 
in the aggressive luxury of our ocean steam- 
ers, where paint and gilding run riot, and 
every scrap of wall space bears its burden 
of inappropriate decoration. To those for 
whom a sea voyage is but a penitential pil- 
grimage, the fat frescoed Cupids and pink 
roses of the saloons offer no adequate com- 
pensation for their sufferings ; whitewash 
and hangings of sackcloth would harmonize 
more closely with their sentiments. Yet 
these ornate embellishments pursue them now 
even to the solitude of their staterooms, and 
the newest steamers boast of cabins where 
the wretched traveler, too ill to arise from 
his berth, may be solaced by Cupids of his 
own frisking nakedly over the wash-bowl, 
and by pink roses in profusion festooning 
his narrow cell. If he can look at them 
without loathing, he is to be envied his 
unequaled serenity of mind. 

It is strange that the authors who have 
written so much about luxury, whether they 
praise it satirically, like Mandeville, or con- 


demn it very seriously, like Mr. Goldwin 
Smith, or merely inquire into its history and 
traditions, like that careful scholar, M. Bau- 
drillart, should never have been struck with 
the amount of discomfort it entails. In mod- 
ern as in ancient times, the same zealous pur- 
suit of prodigality results in the same heavy 
burden of undesirable possessions. The 
youthful daughter of Marie Antoinette was 
allowed, we are told, four pairs of shoes a 
week; and M. Taine, inveighing bitterly 
against the extravagances of the French 
court, has no word of sympathy to spare for 
the unfortunate little princess, condemned by 
this ruthless edict always to wear new shoes. 
Louis XVI. had thirty doctors of his own; 
but surely no one will be found to envy him 
this royal superfluity. He also had a hun- 
dred and fifty pages, who were probably a 
terrible nuisance ; and two chair-carriers, who 
were paid twenty thousand livres a year to 
inspect his Majesty's chairs, which duty they 
solemnly performed twice a day, whether 
they were wanted or not. The Cardinal de 
Rohan had all his kitchen utensils of solid 
silver, which must have given as much satis- 


faction to his cooks as did Nero's golden 
fishing-hooks to the fish he caught with them. 
M. Baudrillart describes the feasts of Elaga- 
balus as if their only fault was their excess ; 
but the impartial reader, scanning each unpal- 
atable detail, comes to a different conclusion. 
Thrushes' brains, and parrots' heads, peas 
mashed with grains of gold, beans fricasseed 
with morsels of amber, and rice mixed with 
pearls do not tempt one's fancy as either 
nourishing or appetizing diet; while the 
crowning point of discomfort was reached 
when revolving roofs threw down upon the 
guests such vast quantities of roses that 
they were well-nigh smothered. Better a 
dish of herbs, indeed, than all this dubious 
splendor. Nothing less enjoyable could have 
been invented in the interests of hospitality, 
save only that mysterious banquet given by 
Solomon the mighty, where all the beasts of 
the earth and all the demons of the air were 
summoned by his resistless talisman to do 
honor to the terrified and miserable ban- 

" Le Superflu, chose tres-necessaire," to 
quote Voltaire's delightful phrase, is a diffi- 


cult thing to handle with propriety and grace. 
Where the advantages of early training and 
inherited habits of indulgence are lacking, 
men who endeavor to spend a great deal of 
money show a pitiful incapacity for the task. 
They spend it, to be sure, but only in aug- 
menting their own and their neighbors' dis- 
comfort ; and even this they do in a blunder- 
ing, unimaginative fashion, almost painful to 
contemplate. The history of Law's Bubble, 
with its long tyain of fabulous and fleeting 
fortunes, illustrates the helplessness of men to 
cope with suddenly acquired wealth. The 
Parisian nabob who warmed up a ragout with 
burning bank notes, that he might boast of 
how much it cost him, was sadly stupid for a 
Frenchman; but he was kinder to himself, 
after all, than the house-painter who, bewil- 
dered with the wealth of Fortunatus, could 
think of nothing better to do with it than to 
hire ninety supercilious domestics for his own 
misusage and oppression. Since the days of 
Darius, who required thirty attendants to 
make his royal bed, there probably never were 
people more hopelessly in one another's way 
than that little army of ninety servants await- 


ing orders from an artisan. The only crea- 
ture capable of reveling in such an establish- 
ment was the author of " Coningsby " and 
" Lothair," to whom long rows of powdered 
footmen, " glowing in crimson liveries," were 
a spectacle as exhilarating as is a troop of 
Horse Guards to persons of a more martial 
cast of mind. Readers of " Lothair " will re- 
member the home-coming of that young gen- 
tleman to Muriel Towers, where the house 
steward, and the chief butler, and the head 
gardener, and the lord of the kitchen, and the 
head forester, and the grooms of the stud and 
of the chambers stand in modest welcome be- 
hind the distinguished housekeeper, " who 
curtsied like the old court; " while the under- 
lings await at a more " respectful distance " 
the arrival of their youthful master, whose 
sterling insignificance must have been pain- 
fully enhanced by all this solemn anticipation. 
" Even the mountains fear a rich man," says 
that ominous Turkish proverb which breathes 
the corruption of a nation ; but it would have 
been a chicken-hearted molehill that trembled 
before such a homunculus as Lothair. 

The finer adaptability of women makes 


them a little less uncomfortable amid such 
oppressive surroundings, and their tamer 
natures revolt from ridiculous excess. They 
listen, indeed, with favor to the counsel of 
Polonius, and their habit is occasionally- 
costlier than their purses can buy; witness 
that famous milliner's bill for fifteen thou- 
sand pounds, which was disputed in the 
French courts during the gilded reign of 
Napoleon III. But, as a rule, the punish- 
ment of their extravagances falls on them- 
selves or on their husbands. They do not, 
as is the fashion with men, make their be- 
longings a burden to their friends. It is 
seldom the mistress of a curio-laden house 
who insists with, tireless perseverance on 
your looking at everything she owns ; though 
it was a woman, and a provincial actress 
at that, raised by two brilliant marriages 
to the pinnacle of fame and fortune, who 
came to Abbotsf ord accompanied by a whole 
retinue of servants and several private physi- 
cians, to the mingled amusement and de- 
spair of Sir Walter. And it was a flower 
girl of Paris who spent her suddenly acquired 
wealth in the most sumptuous entertainments 


ever known even to that city of costly caprice. 
But for stupid and meaningless luxury we 
must look, after all, to men: to Caligula, 
whose horse wore a collar of pearls, and drank 
out of an ivory trough ; to Conde, who spent 
three thousand crowns for jonquils to deck 
his palace at Chantilly ; to the Duke of 
Albuquerque, who had forty silver ladders 
among his utterly undesirable possessions. 
Even in the matter of dress and fashion, 
they have exceeded the folly of women. 
It is against the gallants of Spain, and not 
against their wives, that the good old gossip 
James Howell inveighs with caustic humor. 
The Spaniard, it would seem, " tho' perhaps 
he had never a shirt to his back, yet must he 
have a toting huge swelling ruff around his 
neck," for the starching of which exquisitely 
uncomfortable article he paid the then enor- 
mous sum of twenty shillings. It was found 
necessary to issue a royal edict against these 
preposterous decorations, which grew larger 
and stiffer every year, even children of tender 
age wearing their miniature instruments of 
torture. " Poverty is a most odious calling," 
sighs Burton with melancholy candor ; but it 


is not without some small compensations of 
its own. To realize them, we might compare 
one of Murillo's dirty, smiling, half-naked 
beggar boys with an Infanta by Velasquez, or 
with Moreelzee's charming and unhappy little 
Princess, who, in spreading ruff and stiff pearl- 
trimmed stomacher, gazes at us with childish 
dignity from the wall of Amsterdam's mu- 
seum. Or we might remember the pretty 
story of Meyerbeer's little daughter, who, 
after watching for a long time the gambols of 
some ragged children in the street, turned 
sadly from the window, and said, with pathetic 
resignation, " It is a great misfortune to have 
genteel parents." 


" Few of us," says Mr. Walter Bagehot in 
one of his most cynical moods, " can bear the 
theory of our amusements. It is essential to 
the pride of man to believe that he is indus- 

Now, is it industry or a love of sport which 
makes us sit in long and solemn rows in an 
oppressively hot room, blinking at glaring 
lights, breathing a vitiated air, wriggling on 
straight and narrow chairs, and listening, as 
well as heat and fatigue and discomfort will 
permit, to a lecture which might just as well 
have been read peacefully by our own firesides ? 
Do we do this thing for amusement, or for in- 
tellectual gain? Outside, the winter sun is 
setting clearly in a blue-green sky. People 
are chatting gayly in the streets. Friends are 
drinking cups of fragrant tea in pleasant lamp- 
lit rooms. There are concerts, perhaps, or 
matinees, where the deft comedian provokes 
continuous laughter. No ; it is not amusement 


that we seek in the lecture-hall. Too many 
really amusing things may be done on a winter 
afternoon. Too many possible pleasures lie 
in wait for every spare half-hour. We can 
harbor no delusions on that score. 

Is it industry, then, that packs us side by side 
in serried Amazonian ranks, broken here and 
there by a stray and downcast man ? But on 
the library shelves stand thick as autumn 
leaves the unread books. Hidden away in 
obscure corners are the ripe old authors whom 
we know by name alone. The mist of an un- 
spoken tongue veils from us the splendid 
treasures of antiquity, and we comfort our- 
selves with glib commonplaces about " the 
sympathetic study of translations." No ; it 
can hardly be the keen desire of culture which 
makes us patient listeners to endless lectures. 
Culture is not so easy of access. It is not a 
thing passed lightly from hand to hand. It is 
the reward of an intelligent quest, of delicate 
intuitions, of a broad and generous sympathy 
with all that is best in the world. It has been 
nobly defined by Mr. Symonds as " the raising 
of the intellectual faculties to their highest po- 
tency by means of conscious training." We 


cannot gain this fine mastery over ourselves by- 
absorbing — or forgetting — amass o£ details 
upon disconnected subjects, — " a thousand 
particulars," says Addison, " which I would 
not have my mind burdened with for a 
Vatican." If we will sit down and seri- 
ously try to reckon up our winnings in 
years of lecture-going, we may yet find our- 
selves reluctant converts to Mr. Bagehot's 
cruel conclusions. It is the old, old search for 
a royal road to learning. It is the old, old 
effort at a compromise which cheats us out 
of both pleasure and profit. It is the old, old 
determination to seek some short cut to 
acquirements, which, like "conversing with 
ingenious men," may save us, says Bishop 
Berkeley, from " the drudgery of reading and 

The necessity of knowing a little about a 
great many things is the most grievous burden 
of our day. It deprives us of leisure on the 
one hand, and of scholarship on the other. 
At times we envy the happy Hermit of Prague, 
who never saw pen or ink ; at times we think 
somewhat wistfully of the sedate and dignified 
methods of the past, when students, to use Sir 


Walter Scott's illustration, paid their tickets 
at the door, instead of scrambling over the 
walls to distinction. It shows a good deal of 
agility and self-reliance to scale the walls ; and 
such athletic interlopers, albeit a trifle dis- 
ordered in appearance, are apt to boast of 
their unaided prowess : how with " little Latin 
and less Greek" they have become — not 
Shakespeares indeed, nor even Scotts — but 
prominent, very prominent citizens indeed. 
The notion is gradually gaining ground that 
common-school education is as good as col- 
lege education; that extension lectures and 
summer classes are acceptable substitutes 
for continuous study and mental discipline; 
that reading translations of the classics is 
better, because easier, than reading the 
classics themselves ; and that attending a 
" Congress " of specialists gives us, in some 
mysterious fashion, a very respectable know- 
ledge of their specialties. It is after this man- 
ner that we enjoy, in all its varied aspects, that 
energetic idleness which Mr. Bagehot recom- 
mends as a deliberate sedative for our restless 

Yet the sacrifice of time alone is worth some 


sorrowful consideration. We laugh at the 
droning pedants of the old German universities 
who, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centu- 
ries, had well-nigh drowned the world with 
words. The Tubingen chancellor, Penziger, 
gave, it is said, four hundred and fifty-nine 
lectures on the prophet Jeremiah, and over 
fifteen hundred lectures on Isaiah ; while the 
Viennese theologian, Hazelbach, lectured for 
twenty-two consecutive years on the first chap- 
ter of Isaiah, and was cruelly cut off by death 
before he had finished with his theme. But 
the bright side of this picture is that only stu- 
dents — and theological students at that — 
attended these limitless dissertations. Theol- 
ogy was then a battle-field, and the heavy 
weapons forged for the combat were presumed 
to be as deadly as they were cumbersome. 
During all those twenty-two years in which 
Herr Hazelbach held forth so mercilessly, Ger- 
man maidens and German matrons formed no 
part of his audience. They at least had other 
and better things to do. German artisans and 
German tradesmen troubled themselves little 
about Isaiah. German ploughmen went about 
their daily toil as placidly as if Herr Hazelbach 


liafl been born a mute. The sleepy world had 
not then awakened to its duty of disseminating 
knowledge broadcast and in small doses, so 
that our education, as Dr. Johnson discontent- 
edly observed of the education of the Scotch, 
is like bread in a besieged town, — " every 
man gets a little, but no man gets a full meal." 
What we lack in quantity, however, we are 
pleased to make up in variety. We range 
freely over a mass of subjects from the reli- 
gion of the Phoenicians to the poets of Austra- 
lia, and from the Song of Solomon to the 
latest electrical invention. We have lectures 
in the morning upon Plato and Aristotle, and 
in the afternoon upon Emerson and Arthur 
Hugh Clough. We take a short course of 
German metaphysics, — which is supposed to 
be easily compressed into six lectures, — and 
follow it up immediately with another on 
French art, or the folk-lore of the North 
American Indians. No topic is too vast to be 
handled deftly, and finished up in a few after- 
noons. A fortnight for the Renaissance, a 
week for Greek architecture, ten days for 
Chaucer, three weeks for anthropology. It is 
amazing how far we can go in a winter, when 


we travel at this rate of speed. " What 
under the sun is bringing all the women after 
| Hegel ? " asked a puzzled librarian not very 
long ago. " There is n't one of his books left 
in the library, and twenty women come in a 
day to ask for him." It was explained to this 
custodian that a popular lecturer had been 
dwelling with some enthusiasm upon Hegel, 
and that the sudden demand for the philoso- 
pher was a result of his contagious eloquence. 
It seemed for the nonce like a revival of pan- 
theism ; but in two weeks every volume was 
back in its place, and the gray dust of neglect 
was settling down as of yore upon each hoary 
head. The women, fickle as in the days of 
the troubadours, had wandered far from Ger- 
man erudition, and were by that time wrest- 
ling with the Elizabethan poets, or the 
constitutional history of republics. The sun 
of philosophy had set. 

One rather dismal result of this rapid tran- 
sit is the amount of material which each 
lecture is required to hold, and which each 
lecture-goer is expected to remember. A few 
centuries of Egyptian history or of Mediaeval 
song are packed down by some system of 


mental hydraulic pressure into a single hour's 
discourse; and, when they escape, they seem 
vast enough to fill our lives for a week. 
" When Macaulay talks," complained Lady 
Ashburton tartly, " I am not only overflowed 
with learning, but I stand in the slops." We 
have much the same uncomfortable sensation 
at an afternoon lecture, when the tide of in- 
formation, of dry, formidable, relentless facts, 
rises higher and higher, and our spirits sink 
lower and lower with every fresh develop- 
ment. " The need of limit, the feasibility of 
performance," has not yet dawned upon the 
new educators who have taken the world in 
hand; and, as a consequence, we, the stu- 
dents, have never learned to survey our own 
intellectual boundaries. We assume in the 
first place that we have an intelligent interest 
in literature, science, and history, art, archi- 
tecture, and archaeology ; and, in the second, 
that it is possible for us to learn a moderate 
amount about all these things without any un- 
reasonable exertion. This double delusion 
lures us feebly on until we have listened to so 
much, and remembered so little, that we are a 
good deal like the infant Paul Dombey won- 


dering in pathetic perplexity whether a verb 
always agreed with an ancient Briton, or 
three times four was Taurus a bull. 

" When all can read, and books are plenti- 
ful, lectures are unnecessary," says Dr. John- 
son, who hated " by-roads in education," and 
novel devices — or devices which were novel a 
hundred and thirty years ago — for softening 
and abridging hard study. He hated also to 
be asked the kind of questions which we are 
now so fond of answering in the columns of 
our journals and magazines. What should a 
child learn first? How should a boy be 
taught ? What course of study would he 
recommend an intelligent youth to pursue? 
"Let him take a course of chemistry, or a 
course of rope-dancing, or a course of any- 
thing to which he is inclined," was the great 
scholar's petulant reply to one of these re- 
peated inquiries ; and, though it sounds ill-na- 
tured, we have some human sympathy for 
the pardonable irritation which prompted it. 
Dr. Johnson, I am well aware, is not a popu- 
lar authority to quote in behalf of any cause 
one wishes to advance ; but his heterodoxy in 
the matter of lectures is supported openly by 


Charles Lamb, and furtively by some living 
men of letters, who strive, though with no 
great show of temerity, to stem the ever-in- 
creasing current of popular instruction. One 
eminent scholar, being entreated to deliver a 
course of lectures on a somewhat abstruse 
theme, replied that if people really desired 
information on that subject, and if they could 
read, he begged to refer them to two books he 
had written several years before. By perus- 
ing these volumes, which were easy of access, 
they would know all that he once knew, and a 
great deal more than he knew at the present 
time, as he had unhappily forgotten much 
that was in them. It would be simpler, he 
deemed, and it would be cheaper, than bring- 
ing him across the ocean to repeat the same 
matter in lectures. 

As for Lamb, we have not only his frankly 
stated opinion, but — what is much more 
diverting — we have also the unconscious con- 
fession of a purely human weakness with 
which it is pleasant to sympathize. Like all 
the rest of us, this charming and fallible 
genius found that heroic efforts in the future 
cost less than very moderate exertions in the 


present. He was warmly attached to Cole- 
ridge, and he held him in sincere veneration. 
When the poet came to London in 1816, we 
find Lamb writing to Wordsworth very en- 
thusiastically, and yet with a vague under- 
current of apprehension : — 

"Coleridge is absent but four miles, and 
the neighborhood of such a man is as exciting 
as the presence of fifty ordinary persons. 
' T is enough to be within the whiff and wind 
of his genius for us not to possess our souls in 
quiet. If I lived with him, or with the author 
of ' The Excursion,' I should in a very little 
time lose my own identity, and be dragged 
along in the currents of other people's 
thoughts, hampered in a net." 

This is well enough by way of anticipation ; 
but later on, when Coleridge is a fixed star in 
the London skies, and is preparing to give his 
lectures on Shakespeare and English poetry, 
Lamb's kind heart warms to his perpetually 
impecunious friend. He writes now to Payne 
Collier, with little enthusiasm, but with great 
earnestness, bespeaking his interest and assist- 
ance. He reminds Collier of his friendship 
and admiration for Coleridge, and bids him re- 


member that he and all his family attended 
the poet's lectures five years before. He tells 
him alluringly that this is a brand-new course, 
with nothing metaphysical about it, and adds : 
" There are particular reasons just now, and 
have been for the last twenty years, why he 
[Coleridge] should succeed. He will do so 
with a little encouragement." 

Doubtless ; but it is worthy of note that the 
next time the subject is mentioned is in a letter 
to Mrs. Wordsworth, written more than two 
months later. The lectures are now in prog- 
ress ; very successful, we hear ; but — Lamb 
has been to none of them. He intends to go 
soon, of course, — so do we always ; but, in 
the mean while, he is treating resolution with a 
good deal of zest, and making the best plea he 
can for his defalcation. With desperate 
candor he writes : — 

" I mean to hear some of the course, but 
lectures are not much to my taste, whatever 
the lecturer may be. If read, they are dismal 
flat, and you can't think why you are brought 
together to hear a man read his works, which 
you could read so much better at leisure your- 
self. If delivered extempore, I am always in 


pain lest the gift of utterance should suddenly 
fail the orator in the middle, as it did me at 
the dinner given in honor of me at the Lon- 
don Tavern. ' Gentlemen,' said I, and there I 
stopped ; the rest my feelings were under the 
necessity of supplying." 

We can judge pretty well from this letter 
just how many of those lectures on Shake- 
speare Lamb was likely to hear ; and all 
doubts are set at rest when we find Coleridge, 
the following winter, endeavoring to lure his re- 
luctant friend to another course by the presen- 
tation of a complimentary ticket. Even this 
device fails of its wonted success. Lamb is 
eloquent in thanks, and lame in excuses. He 
has been in an "incessant hurry." He was 
unable to go on the evening he was expected 
because it was the night of Kenney's new 
comedy, "which has utterly failed," — this is 
mentioned as soothing to Coleridge's wounded 
feelings. He has mistaken his dates, and sup- 
posed there would be no lectures in Christmas 
week. He is as eager to vindicate himself as 
Miss Edgeworth's Rosamond, and he is as 
sanguine as ever about the future. " I trust," 
he writes, " to hear many a course yet ; " and 


with this splendid resolution, which is made 
without a pang, he wanders brightly off to a 
more engaging topic. 

It is a charming little bit of comedy, and 
has, withal, such a distinctly modern touch, 
that we might fancy it enacted in this year 
of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-four by 
any of our weak and erring friends. 



In these days of grace when all manner of 
evil-doers have their apologists ; when we are 
bidden to admire the artistic spirit of Nero 
and the warm-hearted integrity of Henry the 
Eighth; when a " cult for Domitian" and a 
taste for Nihilists contend with each other in 
our estimation; it may not be ill-timed nor 
unduly venturesome to offer a few modest ar- 
guments in behalf of those Pariahs of modern 
literature, the anonymous reviewers of the 
press. They have been harshly abused for so 
many years. They have been targets for the 
wrath of authors, the scorn of satirists, the 
biting comments of injured genius. And now, 
when milder manners and gentler modes of 
speech are replacing the vigorous Billingsgate 
of our ancestors ; when theologians and politi- 
cians make war upon one another with some 
show of charity and discretion, the reviewer 
alone is excluded from this semblance of good- 
will, the reviewer alone — a thing apart from 


brotherhood — is pelted as openly as ever. 
The stones that are cast at him are so big and 
so hard that if he still lives, and, in a mild 
way, even flourishes, it must be because of his 
own irritating obtusiveness, because of his un- 
pardonable reluctance to come forward decently 
and be killed. 

Now, when I read the list of his misdeeds, 
as they are set forth .categorically by irate 
novelists and poets, when I hear of his " fero- 
city, incompetence and dishonesty," I am filled 
with heroic indignation and with craven fear. 
But when I turn from these scathing com- 
ments to a few columns of book notices, and 
see for myself the amiable effort that is made 
in them to say something reasonably pleasant 
about every volume, I begin to think that Mr. 
Lang is right when he complains that the ordi- 
nary anonymous reviewer is, as the Scotch lassie 
said of a modest lover, " senselessly ceevil," 
good-natured and forbearing to a fault. If he 
sins, it is through indifference, and not through 
brutality. He is more anxious to spare him- 
self than to attack his author. He has that 
provoking charity which is based upon uncon- 
cern, and he looks upon a book with a gentle 


and weary tolerance, fatal alike to animosity 
and enthusiasm. To understand the annoy- 
ance provoked by this mental attitude, we 
must remember that the work which is thus 
carelessly handled is, in its writer's eyes, a 
thing sacred and apart ; with faults perhaps, — 
no great book being wholly free from them, — 
but illustrating some particular attitude 
towards life, which places it beyond the pale 
of common, critical jurisprudence. Even the 
novelist of to-day sincerely believes that his 
point of view, his conception of his own art, 
and the lesson he desires to enforce are matters 
of vital interest to the public ; and that it is 
crass ignorance on the reviewer's part to ignore 
these considerations, and to class his master- 
piece with the companion stories of less self- 
conscious men. What is the use of superbly 
discarding all models, and of thanking Heaven 
daily one does not resemble Fielding and Scott, 
and Thackeray, if one cannot escape after all 
from the standards which these great men 
erected ? 

It is urged also against newspaper critics 
that they read only a small portion of the 
books which they pretend to criticise. This, 


I believe, is true, and it accounts for the good- 
humor and charity they display. If they read 
the whole, we should have a band of misan- 
thropes who would spare neither age nor sex, 
and who would gain no clearer knowledge of 
their subjects through this fearful sacrifice of 
time and temper. " To know the vintage and 
quality of a wine," says Mr. Oscar Wilde, 
" one need not drink the whole cask. One 
tastes it, and that is quite enough." More 
than enough for the reviewer very often, but 
too little to satisfy the author, who regards his 
work as Dick Swiveller regarded beer, as 
something not to be adequately recognized in 
a sip. There is a secret and wholesome con- 
viction in the heart of every man or woman 
who has written a book that it should be no 
easy matter for an intelligent reader to lay 
down that book unfinished. There is a par- 
donable impression among reviewers that half 
an hour in its company is sufficient. This is 
as much perhaps as they can afford to give it, 
and to write a brief, intelligent, appreciative 
notice of a partly read volume is not altoge- 
ther the easy task it seems. That it is con- 
stantly done, proves the reviewer to be a man 


skilled in his petty craft ; but we are merely 
paving the way to disappointment if we ex- 
pect subtle analysis, or fervent eulogy, or even 
very discriminating criticism from his pen. He 
is not a Sainte-Beuve in the first place, and 
he has not a week of leisure in the second. We 
might console ourselves with the reflection 
that if he were a great and scholarly critic 
instead of an insignificant fellow-workman, our 
little books would never meet his eye. 

Another complaint lodged periodically by 
discontents is that the author gains no real 
light from the comments passed upon his work, 
which are irritating and annoying without 
being in the smallest degree helpful. This is 
the substance of those sad grumblings which 
we heard some years ago from Mr. Lewis 
Morris ; and this is the argument offered by 
Mr. Howells, who appears to think that Canon 
Farrar dealt a death-blow to reviewers in the 
simple statement that he never profited by 
their reviews. But at whose door lay the 
blame? It does not follow that, because a 
lesson is unlearned, it has never been taught. 
The Bourbons, it is said, gained nothing from 
some of the sharpest admonitions ever given 


by history. It is worth while to consider, in 
this regard, an extract from the Journal of 
Sir Walter Scott in which he mentions an 
anonymous letter sent him from Italy, and full 
of acute, acrid criticisms on the " Life of Bona- 
parte." " The tone is decidedly hostile," says 
Sir Walter calmly, " but that shall not pre- 
vent my making use of all his corrections, 
where just." It is a hard matter perhaps for 
smaller men to preserve this admirable tran- 
quillity under assault ; to say with Epictetus, 
" He little knew of my other shortcomings or 
he would not have mentioned these alone." 
Yet after all, it is an advantage to be told 
plainly what we need to know and cannot 
see for ourselves,. I am sure that the most 
valuable lesson in literary perspective I ever 
received came from an anonymous reviewer, 
who reminded me curtly that " Mr. Saltus and 
Leopardi are not twins of the intellect." 
When I first saw that sentence I felt a throb 
of indignation that any one should believe, or 
affect to believe, that I ever for a moment sup- 
posed Mr. Saltus and Leopardi were twins of 
the intellect. Afterwards, when in calmer 
mood I re-read the essay criticised, I was 


forced to acknowledge that, if such were not my 
conviction, I had, to say the least, been unfor- 
tunate in my manner of putting things. I had 
used the two names indiscriminately and as if I 
thought one man every whit as worthy of illus- 
trating my text as the other. Such moments 
ought to be salutary, they are so eminently 
cheerless. A disagreeable lesson, disagree- 
ably imparted, is apt to be taken to heart with 
very beneficial results. If it is wasted, the 
fault does not lie with the surly truth-teller, 
whose thankless task has been performed with 
most ungracious efficacy. " Truth," says 
Saville, " has become such a ruining virtue, 
that mankind seems to be agreed to commend 
and avoid it." 

As for the real and exasperating fault of 
much modern writing, its flippant and irrele- 
vant cleverness, the critic and the reviewer 
stand equally guilty of the charge. Mr. Gold- 
win Smith observes that the province of criti- 
cism appears to be now limited to the saying of 
fine things ; and there are moments when we 
feel that this unkind and forcible statement is 
very nearly true. The fatal and irresistible 
impulse to emit sparks — like the cat in the 


fairy story — lures a man away from his sub- 
ject, and sends him dancing over pages in a 
glittering fashion that is as useless as it is 
pretty. It is amazing how brightly he shines, 
but we see nothing by his light. " He uses 
his topic," says Mr. Saintsbury, " as a spring- 
board or platform on and from which to dis- 
play his natural grace and agility, his urbane 
learning, his faculty of pleasant wit." We 
read, and laugh, and are entertained, and sel- 
dom pause to ask ourselves exactly what it 
was which the writer started out to accom- 

Now the finest characteristic of all really 
good criticism is its power of self-repression. 
It is work within barriers, work which drives 
straight to its goal, and does not permit itself 
the luxury of meandering on either side of the 
way. In this respect at least, it is possible 
for the most modest of anonymous reviewers 
to follow the example of the first of critics, 
Sainte-Beuve, who never allowed himself to 
be lured away from the subject in hand, and 
never sacrificed exactness and perspicuity to 
effect. If we compare his essay on the his- 
torian Gibbon with one on the same subject 


by Mr. Walter Bagehot, we will better under- 
stand this admirable quality of restraint. Mr. 
Bagehot's paper is delightful from beginning 
to end ; keen, sympathetic, humorous, and 
sparkling all over with little brilliant asides 
about Peel's Act, and the South Sea Com- 
pany, and grave powdered footmen, and Louis 
XIV., " carefully amusing himself with dreary 
trifles." Underneath its whimsical exaggera- 
tions we recognize clearly the truthful outlines 
and general fidelity of the sketch. But Sainte- 
Beuve indulges in none of these witty and 
wandering fancies. He is keenly alive to the 
proper limitations of his subject ; he has but a 
single purpose in mind, that of helping you to 
accurately understand the character and the 
life's work of the great historian whom he is 
reviewing ; and, while his humor plays 1am- 
bently on every page, he never makes any 
conscious effort to be diverting. Nothing can 
be more sprightly than Mr. Bagehot's account 
of Gibbon's early conversion to the Church of 
Rome, and of the horror and alarm he awoke 
thereby at the manor-house of Buriton, where 
" it would probably have occasioned less sen- 
sation if * dear Edward ' had announced his 


intention of becoming a monkey." Nothing 
can be more dexterous than Mr. Bagehot's 
analysis of the cautious skepticism which re- 
placed the brief religious fervor of youth. 
But when we turn back to Sainte-Beuve, we 
see this little sentence driven like an arrow- 
point straight to the heart of the mystery. 
" While he (Gibbon) prided himself on being 
wholly impartial and indifferent where creeds 
were concerned, he cherished, without avow- 
ing it, a secret and cold spite against religious 
thought, as if it were an adversary which had 
struck him one day when unarmed, and had 
wounded him." A secret and cold spite. 
Were ever five short words more luminously 
and dispassionately significant ? 

A sense of proportion intrudes itself so 
seldom into the popular criticism of to-day, 
that it is hardly worth while to censure the 
reviewer for not comprehending differences 
of degree. How should he, when the whole 
tone of modern sentiment is subversive of 
order and distinction; when the generally 
accepted opinion appears to be that we are 
doing everything better than it was ever done 
before, and have nothing to learn from any- 


body ? This is a pleasant opinion to entertain, 
but it is apt to be a little misleading. The 
old gods are not so readily dislodged, and 
their festal board is not a round table at 
which all guests hold equal rank. If you 
thrust Balzac or Tolstoi by the side of Shake- 
speare, the great poet, it has been well said, 
will, in his infinite courtesy, move higher and 
make room. But you cannot bid them change 
seats at your discretion. Parnassus is not the 
exclusive pasture ground of the Frenchman or 
of the Muscovite. " Homer often nods, but, 
in 4 Taras Bulba,' Gogol never nods," I read 
not long ago in a review. The inference is 
plain, and quite in harmony with much that 
we hear every day ; but how many times 
already has Homer been outstripped by long 
forgotten competitors! It is not indeed the 
nameless critic of the newspapers who gives 
utterance to these startling statements. They 

are signed and countersigned in magazines, 


and occasionally republished in fat volumes 
for the comfort and enlightenment of poster- 
ity. The real curiosities of criticism have 
ever emanated from men bearing the symbol 
of authority. It was no anonymous reviewer 


who called Dante a " Methodist parson in 
Bedlam," or who said that Wordsworth's 
poetry would " never do," or who spoke of 
the "caricaturist, Thackeray." It is no 
anonymous reviewer now who bids us exult 
and be glad over the " literary emancipation 
of the West," as though that large and flour- 
ishing portion of the United States had hith- 
erto been held in lettered bondage. 

In fact, as one's experience in these matters 
increases day by day, one is fain to acknow- 
ledge that the work of the unknown or little 
known professional critic, faulty though it be, 
has certain modest advantages over the simi- 
lar work of Ms critics, the poets and novelists 
when they take to the business of reviewing. 
There are several very successful story-writers 
who are just now handling criticism after a 
fashion which recalls that delightful scene in 
" The Monks of Thelema," where an effort to 
make the village maidens vote a golden apple 
to the prettiest of their number is frustrated 
by the unforeseen contingency of each girl 
voting for herself. In the same artless spirit, 
the novelist turned critic confines his good 
will so exclusively to his own work, or at best 


to that school of fiction which his own work 
represents, that, while we cannot sufficiently 
admire his methods, we do not feel greatly 
stimulated by their results. As for the poet 
umpire, he is apt to bring an uncomfortable 
degree of excitability to bear upon his task. 
It is readily granted that Mr. Swinburne 
manifests at times an exquisite critical dis- 
cernment, and a broad sympathy for much 
that is truly good ; but when less gifted souls 
behold him foaming in Berserker wrath over 
insignificant trifles, they are wont to ask them- 
selves what in the world is the matter. We 
can forgive him, or at least we can strive to 
forgive him, for reviling Byron, snubbing 
George Eliot, underrating George Sand, 
ignoring Jane Austen, calling poor Steele a 
"sentimental debauchee," and asserting that 
the only two women worthy to stand by the 
side of Charlotte Bronte," "the fiery-hearted 
vestal of Haworth" — though why "vestal," 
only Mr. Swinburne knows — are her sister 
Emily and Mrs. Browning. But when he 
has been permitted to do all this and a great 
deal more, why should he fall into a passion, 
and use the strongest of strong language, 


because there are details in which everybody 
does not chance to agree with him? In so 
wide a world there must of necessity be many 
minds, and the opinions of a poet are not 
always beacon fires to light us through the 
gloom. Even the musician has been for 
some time prepared to step into the critical 
arena, and Mr. E. S. Dallos, in "The Gay 
Science," quotes for us a characteristic extract 
from Wagner, which probably means some- 
thing, though only a very subtle intellect 
could venture to say what. 

" If we now consider the activity of the 
poet more closely, we perceive that the real- 
ization of his intention consists solely in ren- 
dering possible the representation of the 
strengthened actions of his poetized forms 
through an exposition of their motives to the 
feelings, as well as the motives themselves. 
Also by an expression that in so far engrosses 
his activity, as the invention and production 
of this expression in truth first render the 
introduction of such motives and actions pos- 

After this splendid example of style and 
lucidity, it may be that even the ordinary, 


every-day, unostentatious reviewer whom we 
so liberally despise will be admitted to possess 
some few redeeming virtues. 

And, in truth, patience is one of them. 
Think of the dull books which lie piled upon 
his table ! Think how many they are, and 
how long they are, and how alike they are, 
and how serious they are, and how little we 
ourselves would care to read them ! If the re- 
viewer sometimes misses what is really good, 
or praises what is really bad, this does not 
mean that he is incompetent, dishonest, or 
butcherly. It means that he is human, that 
he is tired, perhaps a little peevish, and dis- 
posed to think the world would be a merrier 
place if there were fewer authors in it. The 
new novelist or budding poet who comes for- 
ward at this unpropitious moment is not 
hailed with acclamations of delight ; while the 
conscientious worker who has spent long 
months in compiling the weighty memoirs of 
departed mediocrity is outraged by the scant 
attention he receives. Meanwhile the number 
of books increases with fearful speed. Each 
is the embodiment of a sanguine hope, and 
each claims its meed of praise. A fallible 


reviewer struggles with the situation as best 
he can, saying pleasant things which are scan- 
tily merited, and sharp things which are 
hardly deserved; but striving intelligently, 
and with tolerable success to tell a self-indul- 
gent public something about the volumes 
which it is too lazy to read for itself. 

" dreams of the tongues that commend us, 
Of crowns for the laureate pate, 
Of a public to buy and befriend us, 
Ye come through the Ivory Gate. 
But the critics that slash us and slate, 
But the people that hold us in scorn, 
But the sorrow, the scathe, and the hate, 
Through the portals of horn." 



I should like to be told by one of the 
accomplished critics of the day what is — or 
rather what is not — a pastel ? Dictionaries, 
with their wonted rigidity, define the word 
as "a colored crayon," ignoring its literary 
significance, and affording us no clue to its 
elusive and mutable characteristics. When Mr. 
Stewart Merrill christened his pretty little 
volume of translations " Pastels in Prose," he 
gave us to understand, with the assistance o£ 
Mr. Howells' prefatory remarks, that the 
name was an apt one for those brief bits of 
unrhymed, unrhythmical, yet highly poetic 
composition in the execution of which the 
French have shown such singular felicity and 
grace. Some of these delicate trifles have 
the concentrated completeness of a picture, 
and for them the name is surely not ill-chosen. 
Sombre, or joyous, or faintly ironical, they 
bring before our eyes with vivid distinctness 
every outline of the scene they portray. 


" Padre Pugnaccio " and " Henriquez," by- 
Louis Bertrand, and that strange lovely " Cap- 
tive," by Ephrai'm Mikhael, are as admirable 
in their limitations as in their finish. They 
show us one thing only, and show it with 
swift yet comprehensive lucidity. But if 
" Padre Pugnaccio " be a pastel, then, by that 
same token, " Solitude " is not. It is a mod- 
erately long and wholly allegorical story, and 
its merits are of a different order. As for 
Maurice de Guerin's " Centaur," that noble 
fragment has nothing in common with the 
fragile delicacy of the pretty little picture 
poems which surround it. It is a masterpiece 
of breadth and virility. Its sonorous sentences 
recall the keener life of the antique world, 
and it stands among its unsubstantial com- 
panions like a bust of Hermes in a group of 
Dresden figures, all charming, but all dwarfed 
to insignificance by the side of that strong 
young splendor. To call " The Centaur " a 
pastel is as absurd as to call " Endymion " an 

However, Mr. Merrill's translations are far 
from defining the limits of the term. On the 
contrary, we have M. Paul Bourget's group of 


stories, "Pastels of Men," which are not prose 
poems at all, nor brief pen pictures ; but tales 
of a rather elaborate and unclean order, full 
of wan sentiment, and that cheerless vice which 
robs the soul without gratifying the body. 
Occasionally, as in the sketch of the poor old 
teacher living his meagre life from hour to 
hour, M. Bourget draws for us, with melan- 
choly skill, a single scene from the painful 
drama of existence. This is perhaps a pastel, 
since the word must be employed ; but why 
should an interminable and shifting tale about 
a rich young widow, who cannot make up her 
mind in less than a hundred pages which of 
her four lovers she will marry, be called by 
the same generic title? If it be equally 
applicable to every kind of story, short or 
long, simple or involved, descriptive or ana- 
lytic, then it has no real meaning at all, and 
becomes a mere matter of capricious selection. 
" Wandering Willie's Tale," and " The Cricket 
on the Hearth " could with propriety have 
been termed pastels. 

Nor does the matter stop here. In Mr. 
Gosse's recent volume of essays, he has in- 
cluded two admirable criticisms on Mr. Robert 


Louis Stevenson's poetry, and on Mr. Rudyard 
Kipling's prose. These papers, discriminating, 
sympathetic, and exhaustive, are called pastels. 
They do not differ in any way from other crit- 
ical studies of equal length and merit. They 
abound in agreeable quotations, and show a 
clear and genial appreciation of their themes. 
They are simply reviews of an unusually good 
order, and if their title be correctly applied, 
then it is serviceable for any piece of literary 
criticism which deals with a single author. 
Macaulay's " Madame D'Arblay," Mr. Birrell's 
" Emerson," Mr. Saintsbury's " Peacock," 
might all have been named pastels. 

By this time the subject begins to grow per- 
plexing. Miss Wilkin s wanders far from her 
true gods, and from the sources of her genuine 
inspiration, to write a handful of labored 
sketches — pen pictures perhaps, albeit a trifle 
stiff in execution — which she calls pastels. 
Mr. Brander Matthews gives us, as his contri- 
bution to the puzzle, a vivid description of 
Carmencita dancing in a New York studio, and 
calls it a pastel. If we stray from prose to 
verse, we are tripped up at every step. Nebu- 
lous little couplets, songs of saddening subtlety, 


weird conceits and high-pacing rhymes are 
thoughtfully labeled pastels, so as to give us a 
clue to their otherwise impenetrable obscurity. 
Sullen seas, and wan twilights, and dim garden 
paths, relieved with ghostly lilies, and white- 
armed women of dubious decorum, are the 
chief ingredients of these poetic novelties ; but 
here is one, picked up by chance, which reads 
like a genial conundrum : — 

; ' The light of our cigarettes 
Went and came in the gloom ; 
It was dark in the little room. 

Dark, and then in the dark, 

Sudden, a flash, a glow, 

And a hand and a ring I know. \ 

And then, through the dark, a flush, 
Ruddy and vague, the grace — 
A rose — of her lyric face." 

Now, if that be a pastel, and Mr. Gosse's 
reviews are pastels, and M. Bourget's stories 
are pastels, and Maurice de Guerin's " Cen- 
taur " is a pastel, and Mr. Brander Matthews' 
realistic sketches are pastels, and Ephraim 
Mikhael's allegories are pastels, I should like 
to be told, by some one who knows, just where 
the limits of the term is set. 



A very charming and vivacious old lady, 
who had spent most of her early life in the 
country, once said to me that the keenest 
pleasure of her childhood was the occasional 
arrival of her mother's guests; the keenest 
regret, their inevitable and too speedy depar- 
ture. " They seldom stayed more than a fort- 
night," she observed, plaintively ; " though 
now and then some cousins prolonged their 
visits for another week. What I most en- 
joyed on these occasions was the increased 
good temper of my own family. Annoyances 
were laughed at, our noisy behavior was over- 
looked, conversation took an agreeable turn, 
and a delightful air of cheerfulness and good 
humor pervaded the entire household. It 
seemed to my infant eyes that life would be a 
matter of flawless enjoyment if we could only 
have visitors always in the house." 

A little of this frankly expressed sentiment 
will find an echo in many hearts, and perhaps 

GUESTS. 159 

awaken some pangs of conscience on the way. 
It is the restraint we put upon ourselves, the 
honest effort we make at amiability, which 
renders social intercourse possible and pleas- 
ant. When the restraint grows irksome, the 
amiability a burden, we pay to those we love 
best on earth the dubious compliment of being 
perfectly natural in their company. " What 
is the use of having a family if you cannot be 
disagreeable in the bosom of it ? " was the 
explicit acknowledgment I once overheard of a 
service which seldom meets with such clear 
and candid recognition. Hazlitt himself could 
have given no plainer expression to a thought 
which few of us would care to trick out in all 
the undisguised sincerity of language. 

Guests are the delight of leisure, and the 
solace of ennui. It is the steady and merci- 
less increase of occupations, the augmented 
speed at which we are always trying to live, 
the crowding of each day with more work and 
amusement than it can profitably hold, which 
have cost us, among other good things, the 
undisturbed enjoyment of our friends. Friend- 
ship takes time, and we have no time to give it. 
We have to go to so many teas, and lectures, 


and committee meetings ; we have taken up 
so many interesting and exacting careers ; we 
have assumed so many duties and responsibili- 
ties, that there is not a spare corner in our 
lives which we are free to fill up as we please. 
Society, philanthropy, and culture divide our 
waking hours. Defrauded friendship gets a 
few moments now and again, and is bidden to 
content itself, and please not to be troublesome 
any more. I once rashly asked a girl of 
twenty if she saw a great deal of a young mar- 
ried woman whom she had just declared to be 
her dearest and most cherished friend. " I 
never see her at all," was the satisfied answer, 
" except by chance, at a tea or a club meeting. 
We live so very far apart, as you know. It 
would take the heart of an afternoon to try 
and make her a visit." 

Now, to understand the charm of leisurely 
and sympathetic intercourse, we should read the 
letters of Madame de Sevigne ; to appreciate 
the resources of ennui, we should read the nov- 
els of Jane Austen. With Madame de Serigne 
guests were not useful as an alleviation of bore- 
dom ; they were valuable because they added 
to the interest, the beauty and the zest of 

GUESTS. 161 

life. It never occurred to this charming 
Frenchwoman, nor to her contemporaries, 
that time could be better spent than in enter- 
taining or being entertained by friends. Con- 
versation was not then small coin, to be paid 
our hastily like car-fare, merely in order to 
get from one necessary topic to another. It 
was the golden mean through which a generous 
regard, a graceful courtesy, or a sparkling wit 
lent beauty and distinction to every hour of 
intercourse. A little group of friends in a 
quiet countryside, with none of the robust di- 
versions of English rural life. It has a sleepy 
sound ; yet such was the pleasure-giving power 
of hostess and of guest that this leisurely com- 
panionship was fraught with fine delight, and 
its fruits are our inheritance to-day, lingering 
for us in the pages of those matchless letters 
from which time can never steal the charm. 

It is Miss Austen, however, who, with relent- 
less candor, has shown us how usefully guests 
may be employed as an antidote for the ennui 
of intellectual vacuity. They are the chosen 
relief for that direful dullness which country 
gentlemen " like Sir John Middleton," expe- 
rience from lack of occupation and ideas ; they 


are the solace of sickly, uninteresting women 
who desire some one to share with them 'the 
monotonous current of existence. The Mid- 
dletons, we are assured, " lived in a style of 
equal hospitality and elegance. They were 
scarcely ever without some friends staying 
with them in the house, and they kept more 
company of every kind than any other 
family in the neighborhood." This indul- 
gence, it appears, while equally welcome to 
host and hostess, was more necessary to Sir 
John's happiness than to his wife's ; for she 
at least possessed one other source of continual 
and unflagging diversion. " Sir John was a 
sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother. He 
hunted and shot, and she humored her chil- 
dren ; and these were their only resources. 
Lady Middleton, however, had the advantage 
of being able to spoil her children all the year 
round, while Sir John's independent employ- 
ments were in existence only half the time." 

Guests play an important part in Miss Aus- 
ten's novels, as they did in Miss Austen's life, 
and in the lives of all the hospitable country- 
people of her time. Moreover, the visits her 
heroines and their friends pay are not little tri- 

GUESTS. 163 

fling modern affairs of a few days or a week. 
Distances counted for something when they had 
to be traveled in a carriage or a post-chaise ; 
and when people came to see their friends 
in that fashion, they came to stay. Elizabeth 
Bennet and Maria Lucas spend six weeks 
with Charlotte Collins ; and Lady Catherine, it 
will be remembered, does not at all approve of 
their returning home so quickly. " I expected 
you to stay two months," she says severely — 
they are not her guests at all — "I told Mrs. 
Collins so, before you came. There can be no 
occasion for your going so soon." Eleanor 
and Marianne Dashwood begin their visit to 
Mrs. Jennings the first week of January, and 
it is April before we find them setting forth 
on their return. Anne Elliot goes to Upper- 
cross for two months, though the only induce- 
ment offered her is Mary Musgrove's pro- 
phetic remark that she does not expect to 
have a day's health all autumn ; and her only 
pastime as a visitor appears to be the somewhat 
dubious diversion of making herself generally 
useful. It is a far cry from our busy age to 
either Miss Austen or Madame de Sevigne. 
The bounteous resources of a highly cultivated 


leisure have never been very clearly under- 
stood by the English-speaking race. The alle- 
viations of inactivity and ennui are no longer 
with us a rigorous necessity. Our vices and 
our virtues conspire to defraud us of that 
charming and sustained social intercourse 
which is possible only when we have the un- 
disturbed possession of our friends ; when we 
are so happy as to be sheltered under the same 
roof, to pursue the same occupations, to enjoy 
the same pleasures, to exchange thoughts and 
sentiments with entire freedom and familiarity. 
" I cannot afford to speak much to my 
friend," says Emerson, meaning that it is a 
privilege he neither values nor desires. We 
cannot afford to speak much to our friends, 
though we may desire it with our whole hearts, 
because we have been foolish enough to per- 
suade ourselves that we have other and better 
things to do. 


" Sympathy," says Mr. Eobert Louis Ste- 
venson, is a thing to be encouraged, apart 
from human considerations, because it sup- 
plies us with materials for wisdom. It is pro- 
bably more instructive to entertain a sneaking 
kindness for any unpopular person than to 
give way to perfect raptures of moral indig- 
nation against his abstract vices." 

These are brave words, and spoken in one 
of those swift flashes of spiritual insight which 
at first bewilder and then console us. We 
have our share of sympathy ; hearty, healthy, 
human sympathy for all that is strong and 
successful ; but the force of moral indignation 
— either our own or our neighbors' — has well- 
nigh cowed us into silence. The fashion of the 
day provides a procrustean standard for every 
form of distinction ; and, if it does not fit, it 
is lopped down to the necessary insignificance. 
Those stern, efficient, one-sided men of action 
who made history at the expense of their finer 


natures ; those fiery enthusiasts who bore 
down all just opposition to their designs ; 
those loyal servants who saw no right nor 
wrong save in the will of their sovereigns; 
those keen-eyed statesmen who served their 
countries with craft, and guile, and dissimula- 
tion ; those light-hearted prodigals who flung 
away their lives with a smile ; — are none of 
these to yield us either edification or delight? 
" Do great deeds, and they will sing them- 
selves," says Emerson ; but it must be con- 
fessed the songs are often of a very dismal 
and enervating character. Columbus did a 
great deed when he crossed the ocean and dis- 
covered the fair, unknown land of promise ; 
yet many of the songs in which we sing his 
fame sound a good deal like paeans of re- 
proach. The prevailing sentiment appears to 
be that a person so manifestly ignorant and 
improper should never have been permitted 
to discover America at all. 

This sickly tone is mirrored in much of the 
depressing literature of our day. It finds 
amplest expression in such joyless books as 
" The Heavenly Twins," the heroine of which 
remarks with commendable self - confidence 


that " The trade of governing is a coarse pur- 
suit ; " and also that " War is the dirty work 
of a nation ; one of the indecencies of life." 
She cannot even endure to hear it alluded to 
when she is near ; but, like Athene, whose 
father, Zeus, " by chance spake of love mat- 
ters in her presence," she flies chastely from 
the very sound of such ill-doing. Now on first 
reading this sensitive criticism, one is tempted 
to a great shout of laughter, quite as coarse, 
I fear, as the pursuit of governing, and almost 
as indecent as war. Ah! founders of em- 
pires, and masters of men, where are your 
laurels now? If some people in public life 
were acquainted with Mrs. Wititterly's real 
opinion of them," says Mr. Wititterly to 
Kate Nickleby, "they would not hold their 
heads perhaps quite as high as they do." But 
in moments of soberness such distorted points 
of view seem rather more melancholy than di- 
verting. Evadne is, after all, but the feeble 
reflex of an over-anxious age which has lost 
itself in a labyrinth of responsibilities. Shel- 
ley, whose rigidity of mind was at times al- 
most inconceivable, did not hesitate to deny 
every attribute of greatness wherever he felt 


no sympathy. To him, Constantine was a 
" Christian reptile," a " stupid and wicked 
monster ; " while of Napoleon he writes with 
the invincible gravity of youth. "Buona- 
parte's talents appear to me altogether con- 
temptible and commonplace ; incapable as he 
is of comparing connectedly the most obvious 
propositions, or relishing any pleasure truly 

To the mundane and unpoetic mind it 
would seem that there were several proposi- 
tions, obvious or otherwise, which Napoleon 
was capable of comparing quite connectedly, 
and that his ruthless, luminous fashion of 
dealing with such made him more terrible 
than fate. As for pleasures, he knew how 
to read and relish "Clarissa Harlowe," for 
which evidence of sound literary taste, one 
Englishman at least, Hazlitt, honored and 
loved him greatly. If we are seeking an em- 
bodiment of unrelieved excellence who will 
work up well into moral anecdotes and jour- 
nalistic platitudes, the emperor is plainly not 
what we require. But when we have great 
men under consideration, let us at least think 
of their greatness. Let us permit our little 


hearts to expand, and our little eyes to sweep a 
broad horizon. There is nothing in the world 
I dislike so much as to be reminded of Na- 
poleon's rudeness to Madame de Stael, or of 
Caesar's vain attempt to hide his baldness. 
Caesar was human; that is his charm; and 
Madame de Stael would have sorely strained 
the courtesy of good King Arthur. Had she 
attached herself unflinchingly to his court, it 
is probable he would have ended by request- 
ing her to go elsewhere. 

On the other hand, it is never worth while 
to assert that genius repeals the decalogue. 
We cannot believe with M. Waliszewski that 
because Catherine of Russia was a great ruler 
she was, even in the smallest degree, privi- 
leged to be an immoral woman, to give " free 
course to her senses imperially." The same 
commandment binds with equal rigor both em- 
press and costermonger. But it is the great- 
ness of Catherine, and not her immorality, 
which concerns us deeply. It is the greatness 
of Marlborough, of Richelieu, and of Sir 
Robert Walpole which we do well to consider, 
and not their shortcomings, though from the 
tone assumed too often by critics and histo- 


rians, one would imagine that duplicity, am- 
bition and cynicism were the only attributes 
these men possessed ; that they stood for their 
vices alone. One would imagine also that the 
same sins were quite unfamiliar in humble 
life, and had never been practised on a petty 
scale by lawyers and journalists and bank 
clerks. Yet vice, as Sir Thomas Browne re- 
minds us, may be had at all prices. " Expen- 
sive and costly iniquities which make the 
noise cannot be every man's sins ; but the soul 
may be foully inquinated at a very low rate, 
and a man may be cheaply vicious to his own 

It is possible then to overdo moral criticism, 
and to cheat ourselves out of both pleasure 
and profit by narrowing our sympathies, and 
by applying modern or national standards to 
men of other ages and of another race. In- 
stead of realizing, with Carlyle, that eminence 
of any kind is a most wholesome thing to con- 
template and to revere, we are perpetually 
longing for some crucial test which will divide 
true heroism — as we now regard it — from 
those forceful qualities which the world has 
hitherto been content to call heroic. I have 


heard people gravely discuss the possibility of 
excluding from histories, from school histories 
especially, the adjective " great," wherever it 
is used to imply success unaccompanied by 
moral excellence. Alfred the Great might 
be permitted to retain his title. Like the 
" blameless Ethiops," he is safely sheltered 
from our too penetrating observation. But 
Alexander, Frederick, Catherine, and Louis 
should be handed down to future ages as the 
" well-known." Alexander the Well-Known ! 
We can all say that with clear consciences, 
and without implying any sympathy or regard 
for a person so manifestly irregular in his hab- 
its, and seemingly so devoid of all altruistic 
emotions. It is true that Mr. Addington Sy- 
monds has traced a resemblance between the 
Macedonian conqueror, and the ideal warrior 
of the Grecian camp, Achilles the strong- 
armed and terrible. Alexander, he maintains, 
is Achilles in the flesh; passionate, uncon- 
trolled, with an innate sense of what is great 
and noble ; but " dragged in the mire of the 
world and enthralled by the necessities of hu- 
man life." The difference between them is 
but the difference between the heroic concep- 


tion of a poet and the stern limitations of 

Apart, however, from the fact that Mr. Sy- 
monds was not always what the undergradu- 
ate lightly calls " up in ethics," it is to be 
feared that Achilles himself meets with scant 
favor in our benevolent age. " Homer mir- 
rors the world's young manhood ; ' : but we 
have grown old and exemplary, and shake our 
heads over the lusty fierceness of the warrior, 
and the facile repentance of Helen, and the 
wicked wiles of Circe, which do not appear to 
have met with the universal reprobation they 
deserve. On the contrary, there is a blithe 
good-temper in the poet's treatment of the en- 
chantress, whose very name is so charming it 
disarms all wrath. Circe ! The word is sweet 
upon our lips ; and this light-hearted embodi- 
ment of beauty and malice is not to be judged 
from the bleak stand-point of Salem witch- 
hunters. If we are content to take men and 
women, in and out of books, with their edifi- 
cation disguised, we may pass a great many 
agreeable hours in their society, and find our- 
selves unexpectedly benefited even by those 
who appear least meritorious in our eyes. A 


frank and generous sympathy for any much 
maligned and sorely slandered character, — 
such, for instance, as Graham of Claverhouse ; 
a candid recognition of his splendid virtues 
* and of his single vice ; a clear conception of 
his temperament, his ability, and his work, — 
these things are of more real service in broad- 
ening our appreciations, and interpreting our 
judgments, than are a score of unqualified 
opinions taken ready-made from the most ad- 
mirable historians in Christendom. It is a 
liberal education to recognize, and to endeavor 
to understand any form of eminence which the 
records of mankind reveal. 

As for the popular criticism which fastens 
on a feature and calls it a man, nothing can 
be easier or more delusive. Claverhouse was 
merciless and densely intolerant ; but he was 
also loyal, brave, and reverent ; temperate in 
his habits, cleanly in his life, and one of the 
first soldiers of his day. Surely this leaves 
some little balance in his favor. Marlbor- 
ough may have been as false as Judas and as 
ambitious as Lucifer; but he was also the 
greatest of English-speaking generals, and 
England owes him something better than pic- 


turesque invectives. What can we say to peo- 
ple who talk to us anxiously about Byron's 
unkindness to Leigh Hunt, and Dr. Johnson's 
illiberal attitude towards Methodism, and 
Scott's incomprehensible friendship for John * 
Ballantyne ; who remind us with austere dis- 
satisfaction that Goldsmith did not pay his 
debts, and that Lamb drank more than was 
good for him, and that Dickens dressed loudly 
and wore flashy jewelry ? I don't care what 
Dickens wore. I would not care if he had 
decorated himself with bangles, and anklets, 
and earrings, and a nose-ring, provided he 
wrote "Pickwick" and "David Copperfield." 
If there be any living novelist who can give us 
such another as Sam Weller, or Dick Swivel- 
ler, or Mr. Micawber, or Mrs. Gamp, or Mrs. 
Nickleby, let him festoon himself with gauds 
from head to foot, and wedge his fingers 
" knuckle-deep with rings," like the lady in 
the old song, and then sit down and write. 
The world will readily forgive him his em- 
bellishments. It has forgiven Flaubert his 
dressing-gown, and George Sand her eccentri- 
cities of attire, and Goldsmith his coat of 
Tyrian bloom, and the blue silk breeches for 


which he probably never paid his tailor. It 
has forgiven Dr. Johnson all his little sins ; 
and Lamb the only sin for which he craves 
forgiveness ; and Scott — but here we are not 
privileged even to offer pardon. " It ill be- 
comes either you or me to compare ourselves 
with Scott," said Thackeray to a young writer 
who excused himself for some literary laxity 
by saying that " Sir Walter did the same." 
" We should take off our hats whenever that 
great and good man's name is mentioned in 
our presence." 


It has been occasionally remarked by peo- 
ple who are not wholly in sympathy with the 
methods and devices of our time that this is 
an age of keen intellectual curiosity. We 
have scant leisure and scant liking for hard 
study, and we no longer recognize the admi- 
rable qualities of a wise and contented igno- 
rance. Accordingly, there has been invented 
for us in late years, a via media, a something 
which is neither light nor darkness, a short 
cut to that goal which we used to be assured 
had no royal road for languid feet to follow. 
The apparent object of the new system is to 
enable us to live like gentlemen, or like gentle- 
women, on other people's ideas ; to spare us 
the labor and exhaustion incidental to forming 
opinions of our own by giving us the free use 
of other people's opinions. There is a charm- 
ing simplicity in the scheme, involving as it 
does no effort of thought or mental adjust- 
ment, which cannot fail to heartily recom- 


mend it to the general public, while the addi- 
tional merit of cheapness endears it to its 
thrifty upholders. We are all accustomed to 
talk vaguely about " questions of burning inter- 
est," and " the absorbing problems of the day." 
Some of us even go so far as to have a toler- 
ably clear notion of what these questions and 
problems are. It is but natural, then, that 
we should take a lively pleasure, not in the 
topics themselves, about which we care very 
little, but in the persuasions and convictions 
of our neighbors, about which we have learned 
to care a great deal. Discussions rage on 
every side of us, and the easy, offhand, cock- 
sure verdicts which are so frankly confided to 
the world have become a recognized source of 
popular education and enlightenment. 

I have sometimes thought that this feverish 
exchange of opinions received a fatal impetus 
from that curious epidemic rife in England a 
few years ago, and known as the " Lists of a 
Hundred Books." Never before had such an 
admirable opportunity been offered to people 
to put on what are commonly called " frills," 
and it must be confessed they made the most 
of it. The Koran, the Analects of Confucius, 


Spinoza, Herodotus, Demosthenes, Xenophon, 
Lewis's History of Philosophy, the Saga of 
Burnt Njal, Locke's Conduct of the Under- 
standing, — such, and such only, were the 
works unflinchingly urged upon us by men 
whom we had considered, perhaps, as human 
as ourselves, whom we might almost have sus- 
pected of solacing their lighter moments with 
an occasional study of Rider Haggard or Ga- 
boriau. If readers could be made by the sim- 
ple process of deluging the world with good 
counsel, these arbitrary lists would have 
marked a new intellectual era. As it was, 
they merely excited a lively but unfruitful 
curiosity. " Living movements," Cardinal 
Newman reminds us, " do not come of commit- 
tees." I knew, indeed, one impetuous student 
who rashly purchased the Grammar of Assent 
because she saw it in a list ; but there was a 
limit even to her ardor, for eighteen months 
afterwards the leaves were still uncut. It is 
a striking proof of Mr. Arnold's inspired 
rationality that, while so many of his country- 
men were instructing us in this peremptory 
fashion, he alone, who might have spoken 
with authority, declined to add his name and 


list to the rest. It was an amusing game, he 
said, but he felt no disposition to play it. 

Some variations of this once popular pastime 
have lingered even to our day. Lists of the 
best American authors, lists of the best foreign 
authors, lists of the best ten books published 
within a decade, have appeared occasionally 
in our journals^ while a list of books which 
prominent people intended or hoped to read 
" in the near future " filled us with respect for 
such heroic anticipations. Ten- volume works 
of the severest character counted as trifles in 
these prospective studies. For the past year, 
it is true, the World's Fair has given a less 
scholastic tone to newspaper discussions. We 
hear comparatively little about the Analects 
of Confucius, and a great deal about the 
White City, and tl\e Department of Anthro- 
pology. Perhaps it is better to tell the pub- 
lic your impressions of the Fair than to con- 
fide to it your favorite authors. One revela- 
tion is as valuable as the other, but it is pos- 
sible, with caution, to talk about Chicago in 
terms that will give general satisfaction. It 
is not possible to express literary, artistic, or 
national preferences without exposing one's 


self to vigorous reproaches from people who 
hold different views. I was once lured by a 
New York periodical into a number of harm- 
less confidences, unlikely, it seemed to me, to 
awaken either interest or indignation. The 
questions asked were of the mildly searching 
order, like those which delighted the hearts of 
children, when I was a very little girl, in our 
"Mental Photograph Albums." "Who is 
your favorite character in fiction ? ' : " Who 
is your favorite character in history?" 
" What do you consider the finest attribute of 
man ? " Having amiably responded to a por- 
tion of these inquiries, I was surprised and 
flattered, some weeks later, at seeing myself 
described in a daily paper — on the strength, 
too, of my own confessions — as irrational, 
morbid, and cruel; excusable only on the 
score of melancholy surroundings and a sickly 
constitution. And the delightful part of it 
was that I had apparently revealed all this 
myself. " Do not contend in words about 
things of no consequence," counsels St. Teresa, 
who carried with her to the cloister wisdom 
enough to have kept all of us poor worldlings 
out of trouble. 


The system by which opinions of little or no 
value are assiduously collected and generously 
distributed is far too complete to be baffled by 
inexperience or indifference. The enterpris- 
ing editor or journalist who puts the question 
is very much like Sir Charles Napier; he 
wants an answer of some kind, however inca- 
pable we may be of giving it. A list of the 
queries propounded to me in the last year or 
so recalls painfully my own comprehensive ig- 
norance. These are a few which I remember. 
What was my opinion of college training as 
a preparation for literary work ? What was 
my opinion of Greek comedy ? Was I a pes- 
simist or an optimist, and why ? What were 
my favorite flowers, and did I cultivate them ? 
What books did I think young children ought 
not to read? At what age and under what 
impulses did I consider children first began 
to swear? What especial and serious studies 
would I propose for married women ? What 
did I consider most necessary for the all- 
around development of the coming young 
man ? It appeared useless to urge in reply to 
these questions that I had never been to col- 
lege, never read a line of Greek, never been 


married, never taken charge of children, and 
knew nothing whatever about developing young 
men. I found that my ignorance on all these 
points was assumed from the beginning, but 
that this fact only made my opinions more in- 
teresting and piquant to people as ignorant as 
myself. Neither did it ever occur to my cor- 
respondents that if I had known anything 
about Greek comedy or college training, I 
should have endeavored to turn my knowledge 
into money by writing articles of my own, and 
should never have been so lavish as to give my 
information away. 

That these public discussions or symposiums 
are, however, an occasional comfort to their 
participants was proven by the alacrity with 
which a number of writers came forward, some 
years ago, to explain to the world why Eng- 
lish fiction was not a finer and stronger ar- 
ticle. Innocent and short-sighted readers, 
wedded to the obvious, had foolishly supposed 
that modern novels were rather forlorn be- 
cause the novelists were not able to write bet- 
ter ones. It therefore became the manifest 
duty of the novelists to notify us clearly that 
they were able to write very much better ones, 


but that the public would not permit them to 
do it. Like Dr. Holmes, they did not ven- 
ture to be as funny as they could. " Thought- 
ful readers of mature age," we were told, " are 
perishing for accuracy." This accuracy they 
were, one and all, prepared to furnish without 
stint, but were prohibited lest " the clash of 
broken commandments " should be displeasing 
to polite female ears. A great deal of angry 
sentiment was exchanged on this occasion, and 
a great many original and valuable sugges- 
tions were offered by way of relief. It was an 
admirable opportunity for any one who had 
written a story to confide to the world " the 
theory of his art," to make self-congratulatory 
remarks upon his own " standpoint," and to 
deprecate the stupid propriety of the public. 
When the echoes of these passionate protesta- 
tions had died into silence, we took comfort in 
thinking that Hawthorne had not delayed to 
write " The Scarlet Letter " from a sensitive 
regard for his neighbors' opinions ; and that 
two great nations, unvexed by " the clash of 
broken commandments," had received the 
book as a heritage of infinite beauty and de- 
light. Art needs no apologist, and our great 


literary artist, using his chosen material after 
his chosen fashion, heedless alike of new the- 
ories and of ancient prejudices, gave to the 
world a masterpiece of fiction which the world 
was not too stupid to hold dear. 

The pleasure of imparting opinions in print 
is by no means confined to professionals, to 
people who are assumed to know something 
about a subject because they have been more 
or less occupied with it for years. On the 
contrary, the most lively and spirited discus- 
sions are those to which the general public 
lends a willing hand. Almost any topic will 
serve to arouse the argumentative zeal of the 
average reader, who rushes to the fray with 
that joyous alacrity which is so exhilarating to 
the peaceful looker-on. The disputed pronun- 
ciation or spelling of a word, if ventilated with 
spirit in a literary journal, will call forth 
dozens of letters, all written in the most seri- 
ous and -urgent manner, and all apparently 
emanating from people of rigorous views and 
limitless leisure. If a letter here or there — 
a u, perhaps, or an I — can only be elevated 
to the dignity of a national issue, then the 
combatants don their coats of mail, unfurl their 


countries' flags, and wrangle merrily and oft 
to the sounds of martial music. If, on the 
other hand, the subject of contention be a 
somewhat obvious statement, as, for example, 
that the work of women in art, science, and 
literature is inferior to the work of men, it is 
amazing and gratifying to see the number of 
disputants who promptly prepare to deny the 
undeniable, and lead a forlorn hope to failure. 
The impassive reader who first encounters a 
remark of this order is apt to ask himself if 
it be worth while to state so explicitly what 
everybody already knows ; and behold ! a 
week has not passed over his head before a 
dozen angry protestations are hurled into 
print. These meet with sarcastic rejoinders. 
The editor of the journal, who is naturally 
pleased to secure copy on such easy terms, 
adroitly stirs up slumbering sentiment ; and 
time, temper, and ink are wasted without stint 
by people who are the only converts of their 
own eloquence. " Embrace not the blind side 
of opinions," says Sir Thomas Browne, who, 
born in a contentious age, with " no genius to 
disputes," preached mellifluously of the joys 
of toleration, and of the discomforts of inordi- 
nate zeal. 


Not very long ago, I was asked by a 
sprightly little paper to please say in its col- 
umns whether I thought new books or old 
books better worth the reading. It was the 
kind of question which an ordinary lifetime 
spent in hard study would barely enable one 
to answer ; but I found, on examining some 
back numbers of the journal, that it had been 
answered a great many times already, and ap- 
parently without the smallest hesitation. Cor- 
respondents had come forward to overturn our 
ancient idols, with no sense of insecurity or 
misgiving. One breezy reformer from Ne- 
braska sturdily maintained that Mrs. Hodgson 
Burnett wrote much better stories than did Jane 
Austen ; while another intrepid person, a Vir- 
ginian, pronounced " The Vicar of Wake- 
field" "dull and namby-pamby," declaring 
that "one half the reading world would 
agree with him if they dared." Perhaps they 
would, — who knows ? — but it is a privilege 
of that half of the reading world to be silent 
on the subject. Simple preference is a good 
and sufficient motive in determining one's 
choice of books, but it does not warrant a reader 
in conferring his impressions upon the world. 


Even the involuntary humor of such disclos- 
ures cannot win them forgiveness ; for the ten- 
dency to permit the individual spirit to run 
amuck through criticism is resulting in a lower 
standard of correctness. " The true value of 
souls," says Mr. Pater, " is in proportion to 
what they can admire ; " and the popular no- 
tion that everything is a matter of opinion, 
and that one opinion is pretty nearly as good 
as another, is immeasurably hurtful to that 
higher law by which we seek to rise steadily 
to an appreciation of whatever is best in the 
world. Nor can we acquit our modern critics 
of fostering this self-assertive ignorance, when 
they so lightly ignore those indestructible 
standards by which alone we are able to meas- 
ure the difference between big and little 
things. It seems a clever and a daring feat 
to set up models of our own ; but it is in real- 
ity much easier than toiling after the old un- 
approachable models of our forefathers. The 
originality which dispenses so blithely with 
the past is powerless to give us a correct esti- 
mate of anything that we enjoy in the present. 
It is but a short step from the offhand opin- 
ions of scientific or literary men to the offhand 


opinions of the crowd. When the novelists 
had finished telling us, in the newspapers and 
magazines, what they thought about one an- 
other, and especially what they thought about 
themselves, it then became the turn of novel- 
readers to tell us what they thought about 
fiction. This sudden invasion of the Vandals 
left to the novelists but one resource, but one 
undisputed privilege. They could permit us 
to know and they have permitted us to know 
just how they came to write their books ; in 
what moments of inspiration, under what be- 
nign influences, they gave to the world those 
priceless pages. 

" Sing, God of Love, and tell me in what dearth 
Thrice-gifted Snevellicci came on earth ! " 

After which, unless the unsilenced public 
comes forward to say just how and when and 
where they read the volumes, they must ac- 
knowledge themselves routed from the field. 

La vie de parade has reached its utmost 
license when a Prime Minister of England 
is asked to tell the world — after the manner 
of old Father William — how he has kept so 
hale ; when the Prince of Wales is requested 
to furnish a list of readable books ; when an 


eminent clergyman is bidden to reveal to us 
why he has never been ill ; when the wife of 
the President of the United States is ques- 
tioned as to how she cooks her Thanksgiving 
dinner ; when married women in private life 
draw aside the domestic veil to tell us how 
they have brought up their daughters, and un- 
married women betray to us the secret of 
their social success. Add to these sources of 
information the opinions of poets upon educa- 
tion, and of educators upon: poetry ; of church- 
men upon politics, and of politicians upon the 
church ; of journalists upon art, and of artists 
upon journalism ; and we must in all sincerity 
acknowledge that this is an enlightened age. 
" The voice of the great multitude," to quote 
from a popular agitator, " rings in our startled 
ears ; " and its eloquence is many-sided and 
discursive. Albertus Magnus, it is said, once 
made a head which talked. That was an ex- 
ceedingly clever thing for him to do. But 
the head was so delighted with its accomplish- 
ment that it talked all the time. Whereupon, 
tradition holds, St. Thomas Aquinas grew im- 
patient, and broke it into pieces. St. Thomas 
was a scholar, a philosopher, and a saint. 


If adults are disposed to doubt their own 
decreasing significance, and the increasing as- 
cendency of children, they may learn a lesson 
in humility from the popular literature of the 
day, as well as from social and domestic life. 
The older novelists were so little impressed by 
the ethical or artistic consequence of childhood 
that they gave it scant notice in their pages. 
Scott, save for a few passages here and there, 
as in "The Abbot" and "Peveril of the 
Peak," ignores it altogether. Miss Austen is 
reticent on the subject, and, when she does 
speak, manifests a painful lack of enthusiasm. 
Mary Musgrave's troublesome little boys and 
Lady Middleton's troublesome little girl seem 
to be introduced for no other purpose than to 
show how tiresome and exasperating they can 
be. Fanny Price's pathetic childhood is hur- 
ried over as swiftly as possible, and her infant 
emotions furnish no food for speculation or 
analysis. Saddest of all, Margaret Dashwood 


is ignored as completely as if she had not 
reached the interesting age of thirteen. " A 
good-humored, well-disposed girl," this is all 
the description vouchsafed her ; after which, in 
the absence of further information, we forget 
her existence entirely, until we are reminded 
in the last chapter that she has " reached an 
age highly suitable for dancing, and not 
very ineligible for being supposed to have a 
lover." In other words, she is now ready for 
treatment at the novelist's hands ; only, un- 
happily, the story is told, the final page has 
been turned, and her chances are over forever. 
I well remember my disappointment, as a 
child, at being able to find so little about 
children in the old-fashioned novels on our 
bookshelves. Trollope was particularly try- 
ing, because there were illustrations which 
seemed to promise what I wanted, and which 
were wholly illusive in their character. Posy 
and her grandfather playing cat's-cradle, 
Edith Grantly sitting on old Mr. Harding's 
knee, poor little Louey Trevelyan furtively 
watching his unhappy parents, — I used to 
read all around these pictures in the hope of 
learning more about the children so portrayed. 


But they never said or did anything to awaken 
my interest, or played any but purely passive 
parts in the long histories of their grown-up 
relatives. I had so few books of my own that 
I was compelled to forage for entertainment 
wherever I could find it, dipping experiment- 
ally into the most unpromising sources, and re- 
tiring discomfited from the search. " Vivian 
Grey " I began several times with enthusiasm. 
The exploits of the hero at school amazed 
and thrilled me — as well they might; but I 
never comprehensively grasped his social and 
political career. Little Rawdon Crawley and 
that small, insufferable George Osborne, were 
chance acquaintances, introduced through the 
medium of the illustrations ; but my real 
friends were the Tullivers and David Copper- 
field, before he went to that stupid school of 
Dr. Strong's at Canterbury, and lost all sem- 
blance of his old childish self. It was not 
possible to grow deeply attached to Oliver 
Twist. He was a lifeless sort of boy, despite 
the author's assurances to the contrary ; and, 
though the most wonderful things were al- 
ways happening to him, it never seemed to me 
that he lived up to his interesting surround- 


ings. He would have done very well for a 
quiet life, but was sadly unsuited to that lively 
atmosphere of burglary and housebreaking. 
" Aladdin," says Mr. Froude, " remained a 
poor creature, for all his genii." As for Nell, 
I doubt if it would ever occur to a small inno- 
cent reader to think of her as a child at all. 
I was far from critical in those early days, and 
much disposed to agree with Lamb's amiable 
friend that all books must necessarily be good 
books. Nell was, in my eyes, a miracle of 
courage and capacity, a creature to be believed 
in implicitly, to be revered and pitied ; but she 
was not a little girl. I was a little girl myself, 
and I knew the difference. 

It was Dickens who first gave children their 
prestige in fiction. Jeffrey, we are assured, 
shed tears over Nell ; and Bret Harte, whose 
own pathos is so profoundly touching, de- 
scribes for us the rude and haggard miners fol- 
lowing her fortunes with breathless sympathy : 

'• While the whole camp with ' Nell ' on English meadows, 
Wandered and lost their way.' 1 

At present we are spared the heartrending 
childish deathbeds which Dickens made so 
painfully popular, because dying in novels 


has rather gone out of style. The young 
people live, and thrive, and wax scornful, 
and fill up chapter after chapter, to the ex- 
clusion of meritorious adults. What a con- 
trast between the incidental, almost furtive 
manner in which Henry Kingsley introduces 
his delightful children into " Ravenshoe," and 
the profound assurance with which Sarah 
Grand devotes seventy pages to a minute 
description of the pranks of the Heavenly 
Twins. Readers of the earlier novel used 
to feel they would like to know a little — 
just a little more of Gus, and Flora, and 
Archy, and the patient nursery cat who was 
quite accustomed to being held upside down, 
and who went out " a-walking on the leads," 
when she was needed to accompany her young 
master to bed. Readers of " The Heavenly 
Twins " begin by being amused, then grow 
aghast, and conclude by wondering why the 
wretched relatives of those irrepressible chil- 
dren were not driven to some such expedient 
as that proposed by a choleric old gentleman 
of my acquaintance to the doting mother of an 
only son. " Put him in a hogshead, madam, 
and let him breathe through the bunghole ! " 


Two vastly different types of infant preco- 
city have been recently given to the world by 
Mrs. Deland and Mrs. Hodgson Burnett, the 
only point of resemblance between their re- 
spective authors being the conviction which 
they share in common that children are prob- 
lems which cannot be too minutely studied, 
and that we cannot devote too much time or 
attention to their scrutiny. Mrs. Deland, 
with less humor and a firmer touch, draws for 
us in " The Story of a Child," a sensitive, 
highly strung, morbid and imaginative little 
girl, who seems born to give the lie to Scho- 
penhauer's comfortable verdict, that "the 
keenest sorrows and the keenest joys are not for 
women to feel." Ellen Dale suffers as only a 
self-centred nature can. She thinks about her 
self so much that her poor little head is turned 
with fancied shortcomings and imaginary 
wrongs. Most children have these sombre 
moods now and again. They don't overcome 
them ; they forget them, which is a better and 
healthier thing to do. But Ellen's humors 
are analyzed with a good deal of seriousness 
and sympathy. When she is not "agonized '' 
over her tiny faults, she is u tasting sin with 


the subtle epicurean delight of the artistic 
temperament ; " a passage which may be aptly- 
compared with George Eliot's tamer descrip- 
tion of Lucy Deane trotting by her cousin 
Tom's side, " timidly enjoying the rare treat 
of doing something naughty." The sensations 
are practically the same, the methods of delin- 
eating them different. 

Mrs. Burnett, on the other hand, while in- 
dulging us unstintedly in reminiscences of 
her own childhood, is disposed to paint the 
picture in cheerful, not to say roseate colors. 
" The One I Knew the Best of All " was evi- 
dently a very good, and clever, and pretty, and 
well-dressed little girl, who played her part 
with amiability and decorum in all the small 
vicissitudes common to infant years. No 
other children being permitted to enter the 
narrative, except as lay figures, our atten- 
tion is never diverted from the small crea- 
ture with the curls, who studies her geogra- 
phy, and eats her pudding, and walks in 
the Square, and dances occasionally at par- 
ties, and behaves herself invariably as a nice 
little girl should. It is reassuring, after 
reading the youthful recollections of Sir 


Richard Burton, with their irreverent and ap- 
palling candor, to be gently consoled by Mrs. 
Burnett, and to know with certainty that she 
really was such a delightful and charming 

For Sir Richard, following the fashion of 
the day, has left ns a spirited record of his 
early years, and they furnish scant food for 
edification. There was a time when unfledged 
vices, like unfledged virtues, were ignored by 
the biographer, and forgotten even by the more 
conscientious writer, who compiled his own 
memoirs. Scott's account of his boyhood is 
graphic, but all too brief. Boswell, the dif- 
fuse, speeds over Johnson's tender youth with 
some not very commendatory remarks about 
his "dismal inertness of disposition." Gib- 
bon, indeed, awakens our expectations with 
this solemn and stately sentence : — 

" My lot might have been that of a slave, a 
savage, or a peasant ; nor can I reflect with- 
out pleasure on the bounty of nature which 
cast my birth in a free and civilized country, 
in an age of science and philosophy, in a fam- 
ily of honorable rank, and decently endowed 
with the gifts of fortune." 


After which majestic preamble, we are sur- 
prised to see how little interest he takes in his 
own sickly and studious childhood, and how 
disinclined he is to say complimentary things 
about his own precocity. He writes without 
enthusiasm : — 

" For myself I must be content with a very 
small share of the civil and literary fruits of 
a public school." 

Burton, unhappily, had no share at all, and 
the loss of training and discipline told heavily 
on him all his life. His lawless and wandering 
childhood, so full of incident and so destitute 
of charm, is described with uncompromising 
veracity in Lady Burton's portly volumes. 
He was as far removed from the virtues of 
Lord Fauntleroy as from the brilliant and 
elaborate naughtiness of the Heavenly Twins ; 
but he has the advantage over all these little 
people in being so convincingly real. He 
fought until he was beaten " as thin as a shot- 
ten herring." He knocked down his nurse — 
with the help of his brother and sister — and 
jumped on her. He hid behind the curtains 
and jeered at his grandmother's French. He 
was not pretty, and he was not picturesque. 


" A piece of yellow nankin would be bought 
to dress the whole family, like three sticks of 
barley sugar." 

He was not amiable, and he was not polite, 
and he was not a safe child on whom to try 
experiments of the " Harry and Lucy " order, 
as the following anecdote proves : 

" By way of a wholesome and moral lesson 
of self-command and self-denial, our mother 
took us past Madame Fisterre's (the pastry 
cook's) windows, and bade us look at all the 
good things ; whereupon we fixed our ardent 
affections on a tray of apple puffs. Then she 
said : ; Now, my dears, let us go away ; it is 
so good for little children to restrain them- 
selves.' Upon this we three devilets turned 
flashing eyes and burning cheeks on our mor- 
alizing mother, broke the window with our 
fists, clawed out the tray of apple puffs, and 
bolted, leaving poor Mother a sadder and a 
wiser woman, to pay the damages of her law- 
less brood's proceedings." 

It is the children's age when such a story 
— and many more like it — are gleefully nar- 
rated and are gladly read. Yet if we must 
exchange the old-time reticence for unreserved 


disclosures, if we must hear all about an au- 
thor's infancy from his teething to his first 
breeches, and from his A B C's to his Greek 
and Latin, it is better to have him presented 
to us with such unqualified veracity. He is 
not attractive when seen in this strong light, 
but he is very much alive. 



There has been a vast deal of moralizing 
on the brevity of fame ever since that far-away 
day when mankind became sufficiently so- 
phisticated to covet posthumous distinction. 
Yet, in reality, it is not so surprising that peo- 
ple should be forgotten as that they should 
be remembered, and remembered often for the 
sake of one swift, brave deed that cost no 
effort, or of a few lovely words thrown to the 
world in a moment of unconscious inspiration, 
when the writer little dreamed he was forging 
a chain strong enough to link him with the 
future. Occasionally, too, a species of immor- 
tality is conferred upon respectable mediocrity 
by the affection or the abhorrence it excites. 
The men whom Pope rhymed about because 
he hated them, the men to whom Lamb wrote 
so delightfully because he loved them, all live 
for us in the indestructible land of letters. 
It would be a hard matter to reckon up the 
sum of indebtedness which is thus innocently 


incurred by those who have no coin of their 
own for payment. 

Not long ago a writer of distinction was 
idling his way pleasantly through a volume of 
Mrs. Browning's poetry, when his attention 
was arrested by a quotation which stood at 
the head of that rather nebulous effusion, 
"A Rhapsody of Life's Progress." It was 
but a single line, 

"Fill all the stops of life with tuneful breath," 

and it was accredited to Cornelius Mathews, 
author of " Poems on Man." A foot-note, — 
people were more generous in the matter of 
foot-notes forty years ago than now — - gave 
the additional and somewhat startling infor- 
mation that " Poems on Man " was " a small 
volume by an American poet, as remarkable 
in thought and manner for a vital sinewy vig- 
our as the right arm of Pathfinder." This 
was stout praise. " The right arm of Path- 
finder." We all know what sinewy vigor was 
there ; but of Cornelius Mathews, it would 
seem, no man knew anything at all. Yet his 
poems had traveled far when they lay in Mrs. 
Browning's path, and of her admiration for 


them she had left us this unstinted proof. 
Moreover the one line, 

" Fill all the stops of life with tuneful breath " 

had in it enough of character and sweetness 
to provoke an intelligent curiosity. As a 
scholar and a man of letters, the reader felt 
his interest awakened. He replaced Mrs. 
Browning on the book shelf, and made up his 
mind with characteristic distinctness he would 
read the poems of this forgotten American 

It was not an easy resolution to keep. A 
confident appeal to the public libraries of New 
York and Philadelphia brought to light the 
astonishing fact that no copy of the "Poems 
on Man " was to be found within their walls. 
The work had been published in several edi- 
tions by Harper and Brothers between the 
years 1838 and 1843 ; but no forlorn and dust 
covered volume still lingered on their shelves. 
The firm, when interrogated, knew no more 
about Cornelius Mathews than did the rest of 
the reading world. The next step was to ad- 
vertise for a second-hand copy ; but for a long 
while it seemed as though even second-hand 


copies had disappeared from the face of the 
continent. The book was so exceedingly rare 
that it must have been a universal favorite for 
the lighting of household fires. In the end, 
however, persevering effort was crowned with 
its inevitable success. " The works of Cor- 
nelius Mathews " were unearthed from some 
dim corner of obscurity, and suffered to see 
the genial light of day. 

They comprise a great deal of prose and a 
very little verse, all bound up together, after 
the thrifty fashion of our fathers, in one portly 
volume, with dull crimson sides, and double 
columns of distressingly fine print. The 
" Poems on Man " are but nineteen in number, 
and were originally published in a separate 
pamphlet. They are arranged systematically, 
and are designed to do honor to American 
citizenship under its most sober and common- 
place aspect. The author is in no way dis- 
couraged by the grayness of his atmosphere, 
nor by the unheroic material with which he 
has to deal. On the contrary, he is at home 
with farmers, and mechanics, and merchants ; 
and ill at ease with painters and soldiers, to 
whom it must be confessed he preaches a little 


too palpably. It is painful to consider what 
bad advice he gives to the sculptor in this one 
vicious line, 

" Think not too much what other climes have done." 

Yet, in truth, he is neither blind to the past, 
nor unduly elated with the present. He feels 
the splendid possibilities of a young nation 
with all its life before it ; and earnestly, and 
with dignity, he pleads for the development of 
character, and for a higher system of morality. 
If his verse be uneven and mechanical, and the 
sinewy vigor of Pathfinder be not so apparent 
as might have been reasonably expected, I can 
still understand how these simple and manly 
sentiments should have awakened the enthu- 
siasm of Mrs. Browning, who was herself no 
student of form, and who sincerely believed 
that poetry was a serious pursuit designed for 
the improvement of mankind. 

In his narrower fashion, Mr. Cornelius Ma- 
thews shared this pious creed, and strove, 
within the limits of his meagre art, to awaken 
in the hearts of his countrymen a patriotism 
sober and sincere. He calls on the journalist 
to tell the truth, on the artisan to respect the 


interests of his employer, on the merchant to 
cherish an old-time honor and honesty, on the 
politician to efface himself for the good of his 

" Accursed who on the Mount of Rulers sits, 

Nor gains some glimpses of a fairer day ; 
Who knows not there, what there his soul befits, — 

Thoughts that leap up and kindle far away 
The coming time ! Who rather dulls the ear 

With brawling discord and a cloud of words ; 
Owning no hopeful object, far or near, 

Save what the universal self affords." 

This is not heroic verse, but it shows an heroic 
temper. The writer has evidently some know- 
ledge of things as they are, and some faith in 
things as they ought to be, and these twin 
sources of grace save him from bombast and 
from cynicism. Never in all the earnest and 
appealing lines does he indulge himself or his 
readers in that exultant self-glorification which 
is so gratifying and so inexpensive. His pa- 
triotism is not of the shouting and hat-flour- 
ishing order, but has its roots in an anxious 
and loving regard for the welfare of his father- 
land. Occasionally he strikes a poetic note, 
and has moments of brief but genuine inspira- 


" The elder forms, the antique mighty faces," 

which lend their calm and shadowy presence 
to the farmer's toil, bring with them swift 
glimpses of a strong pastoral world. Not a 
blithe world by any means. No Pan pipes in 
the rushes. No shaggy herdsmen sing in rude 
mirthful harmony. No sun-burnt girls laugh 
in the harvest-field. Eusticity has lost its na- 
tive grace, and the cares of earth sit at the 
fireside of the husbandman. Yet to him be- 
long moments of deep content, and to his clean 
and arduous life are given pleasures which the 
artisan has never known. 

" Better to watch the live-long* day 

The clouds that come and go, 
Wearying the heaven they idle through, 

And fretting out its everlasting blue. 
Though sadness on the woods may often lie, 

And wither to a waste the meadowy land, 
Pure blows the air, and purer shines the sky, 

For nearer always to Heaven's gate you stand." 

The most curious characteristic of Mr. Ma- 
thew's work is the easy and absolute fashion in 
which it ignores the influence, and indeed the 
very existence of woman. The word " man " 
must here be taken in its literal significance. 
It is not of the human race that the author 


sings, but of one half of it alone. No trouble- 
some flutter of petticoats disturbs his serene 
meditations ; no echo of passion haunts his 
placid verse. Even in his opening stanzas 
on " The Child," there is no allusion to any 
mother. The infant appears to have come 
into life after the fashion of Pallas Athene, 
and upon the father only depends its future 
weal or woe. The teacher apparently confines 
his labors to little boys; the preacher has 
a congregation of men ; the reformer, the 
scholar, the citizen, the friend, all dwell in 
a cool masculine world, where the seductive 
voice of womankind never insinuates itself to 
the endangering of sober and sensible beha- 
vior. This enforced absence of " The Eternal 
Feminine " is more striking when we approach 
the realms of art. Does the painter desire 
subjects for his brush ? 

4 ' The mountain and the sea, the setting sun, 
The storm, the face of men, and the calm moon," 

are considered amply sufficient for his needs. 
Does the sculptor ask for models ? They are 
presented him in generous abundance. 

" Crowned heroes of the early age, 
Chieftain and soldier, senator and sage ; 


The tawny ancient of the warrior race, 
With dusky limb and kindling- face." 

Or, should he prefer less conventional types — 

" Colossal and resigned, the gloomy gods 
Eying at large their lost abodes, 
Towering and swart, and knit in every limb ; 
With brows on which the tempest lives, 
With eyes wherein the past survives, 
Gloomy, and battailous, and grim.' , 

With all these legitimate subjects at his com- 
mand, why indeed should the artist turn aside 
after that beguiling beauty which Eve saw 
reflected in the clear waters of Paradise, and 
which she loved with unconscious vanity or 
ever Adam met her amorous gaze. Only to 
the poet is permitted the smallest glimpse into 
the feminine world. In one brief half-line, 
Mr. Mathews coldly and chastely allows that 
" young Love " may whisper something — we 
are not told what — which is best fitted for 
the poetic ear. 

What an old-fashioned bundle of verse it is, 
though written a bare half century ago ! How 
far removed fron the delicate conceits, the 
inarticulate sadness of our modern versifiers ; 
from the rondeaux, and ballades, and pastels, 


and impressions, and nocturnes, with which 
we have grown bewilderingly familiar. How 
these titles alone would have puzzled the sober 
citizen who wrote the " Poems on Man," and 
who endeavored with rigid honesty to make 
his meaning as clear as English words would 
permit. There is no more chance to speculate 
over these stanzas than there is to speculate 
over Hogarth's pictures. What is meant is 
told, not vividly, but with steadfast purpose, 
and with an innocent hope that it may be of 
some service to the world. The world, indeed, 
has forgotten the message, and forgotten the 
messenger as well. Only in a brief foot-note 
of Mrs. Browning's there lingers still the faint 
echo of what once was fife. For such modest 
merit there is no second sunrise ; and yet a 
quiet reader may find an hour well spent in 
the staid company of these serious verses, 
whose best eloquence is their sincerity. 


Dialogues have come back into fashion 
and favor. Editors of magazines look on 
them kindly, and readers of magazines accept 
them as philosophically as they accept any 
other form of instruction or entertainment 
which is provided in their monthly bills of 
fare. Perhaps Mr. Oscar Wilde is in some 
measure responsible for the revival ; perhaps 
it may be traced more directly to the serious 
and stimulating author of " Baldwin," whose 
discussions are sufficiently subtle and relent- 
less to gratify the keenest discontent. The 
restless reader who embarks on Vernon Lee's 
portly volume of conversations half wishes he 
knew people who could discourse in that 
fashion, and is half grateful that he does n't. 
To converse for hours on " Doubts and Pes- j 
simism," or " The Value of the Ideal," is no 
trivial test of endurance, especially when one 
person does three-fourths of the talking. We 
hardly know which to admire most : Baldwin, 


who elucidates a text — and that text, evolu- 
tion — for six pages at a breath, or Michael, 
who listens and " smiles." Even the occa- 
sional intermissions, when " Baldwin shook 
his head," or " they took a turn in silence," or 
" Carlo's voice trembled," or " Dorothy pointed 
to the moors," do little to relieve the general 
tension. It is no more possible to support 
conversation on this high and serious level 
than it is possible to nourish it on Mr. Wilde's 
brilliant and merciless epigrams. Those 
sparkling dialogues in which Cyril might be 
Vivian, and Vivian, Cyril ; or Gilbert might 
be Ernest, and Ernest, Gilbert, because all 
alike are Mr. Wilde, and speak with his voice 
alone, dazzle us only to betray. They are ad- 
mirable pieces of literary workmanship ; they 
are more charming and witty than any con- 
temporaneous essays. But if we will place by 
their side those few and simple pages in which 
Landor permits Montaigne and Joseph Scali- 
ger to gossip together for a brief half hour at 
breakfast time, we will better understand the 
value of an element which Mr. Wilde excludes 
— humanity, with all its priceless sympathies 
and foibles. 


Nevertheless, it is not Landor's influence, 
by any means, which is felt in the random 
dialogues of to-day. He is an author more 
praised than loved, more talked about than 
read* and his unapproachable delicacy and 
distinction are far removed from all efforts of 
facile imitation. Our modern " imaginary 
conversations," whether openly satiric, or 
gravely instructive, are fashioned on other 
models. They have a faint flavor of Lucian, 
a subdued and decent reflection of the " Noc- 
tes ; " but they never approach the classic in- 
cisiveness and simplicity of Landor. There 
is a delightfully witty dialogue of Mr. Bar- 
rie's called " Brought Back from Elysium," 
in which the ghosts of Scott, Fielding, Smol- 
lett, Dickens, and Thackeray are interviewed 
by five living novelists, who kindly undertake 
to point out to them the superiority of modern 
fiction. In this admirable little satire, every 
stroke tells, every phantom and every novelist 
speaks in character, and the author, with dex- 
terous art, fits his shafts of ridicule into the 
easy play of a possible conversation. Nothing 
can be finer than the way in which Scott's 
native modesty, of which not even Elysium 



and the Grove of Bay-trees have robbed him, 
struggles with his humorous perception of the 
situation Fielding is disposed to be angry, 
Thackeray severe, and Dickens infinitely 
amused. But Sir Walter, dragged against 
his will into this unloved and alien atmosphere, 
is anxious only to give every man his due. 
" How busy you must have been, since my 
day," he observes with wistful politeness, 
when informed that the stories have all been 
told, and that intellectual men and women no 
longer care to prance with him after a band 
of archers, or follow the rude and barbarous 
fortunes of a tournament. 

For such brief bits of satire the dialogue 
affords an admirable medium, if it can be 
handled with ease and force. For imparting 
opinions upon abstract subjects it is sure to 
be welcomed by coward souls who think that 
information broken up into little bits is some- 
what easier of digestion. I am myself one of 
those weak-minded people, and the beguiling 
aspect of a conversation, which generally opens 
with a deceptive air of sprightliness, has lured 
me many times beyond my mental depths. 
Nor have I ever been able to understand why 


Mr. Ruskin's publishers should have entreated 
him, after the appearance of " Ethics of the 
Dust," to " write no more in dialogues." To 
my mind, that charming book owes its quality 
of readableness to the form in which it is 
cast, to the breathing-spells afforded by the 
innocent questions and comments of the chil- 

Mr. W. W. Story deals more gently with us 
than any other imaginary conversationalist. 
From the moment that " He and She " meet 
unexpectedly on the first page of " A Poet's 
Portfolio," until they say good-night upon the 
last, they talk comprehensively and agreeably 
upon topics in which it is easy to feel a healthy 
human interest. They drop into poetry and 
climb back into prose with a good deal of 
facility and grace. They gossip about dogs 
and spoiled children ; they say clever and 
true things about modern criticism ; they con- 
verse seriously, but not solemnly, about life 
and love and literature. They do not reso- 
lutely discuss a given subject, as do the 
Squire and Foster in Sir Edward Strachey's 
" Talk at a Country House ; " but sway from 
text to text after the frivolous fashion of flesh 


and blood ; a fashion with which Mr. Story 
has made us all familiar in his earlier volumes 
of conversations. He is a veteran master of 
his field ; yet, nevertheless, the Squire and 
Foster are pleasant companions for a winter 
night. I like to feel how thoroughly I dis- 
agree with both, and how I long to make a 
discordant element in their friendly talk ; and 
this is precisely the charm of dialogues as a 
medium for opinions and ideas. Whether 
the same form can be successfully applied to 
fiction is at least a matter of doubt. Laurence 
Alma Tadema has essayed to use it in " An 
Undivined Tragedy," and the result is hardly 
encouraging. The mother tells the tale in a 
simple and touching manner; and the daugh- 
ter's ejaculations and comments are of no use 
save to disturb the narrative. It is hard 
enough to put a story into letters where the re- 
lator suffers no ill-timed interruptions ; but to 
embody it in a dialogue — which is at the same 
time no play — is to provide a needless ele- 
ment of confusion, and to derange the bound- 
ary line which separates fiction from the 


What an inexhaustible fund of quarrel- 
someness lies at the bottom of the human 
heart ! Since the beginning of the world, 
men have fought and wrangled with one an- 
other ; and now women seem to find their 
keenest pleasure and exhilaration in fighting 
and wrangling with men. In literature, in 
journalism, in lectures, in discussions of every 
kind, they are lifting up their voices with an 
angry cry which sounds a little like Madame 
de Sevigne's " respectful protestation against 
Providence." They are tired, apparently, of 
being women, and are disposed to lay all the 
blame of their limitations upon men. 

There is nothing very healthful in such an 
attitude, nothing dignified, nothing morally 
sustaining. Life is not easy to understand, 
but it seems tolerably clear that two sexes 
were put upon the world to exist harmoni- 
ously together, and to do, each of them, a 
share of the world's work. Their relation to 


one another has been a matter of vital interest 
from the beginning, and no new light has 
dawned suddenly upon this century or this 
people. The shrill contempt heaped by a few 
vehement women upon men, the bitter invec- 
tives, the wholesale denunciations are as value- 
less and as much to be regretted as the old 
familiar Billingsgate which once expressed 
what Mr. Arnold termed " the current com- 
pliments " of theology. It is not convincing to 
hear that " man has shrunk to his real pro- 
portions in our estimation," because we are 
still in the dark as to what these proportions 
are. It is doubtless true that he is " imper- 
fect from the woman's point of view," and 
imperfect, let us .conclude, from his own ; but 
whether we have attained that sure superiority 
which will enable us to work out his salvation 
is at least a matter for dispute. There is an 
ancient and unpopular virtue called humility 
which might be safely recommended to a 
woman capable of writing such a passage as 
this, which is taken from an article published 
recently in the " North American Review." 
" We know the weakness of man, and will be 
patient with him, and help him with his lesson. 


It is the woman's place and pride and pleasure 
to teach the child, and man morally is in his 
infancy. Woman holds out a strong hand to 
the child-man, and insists, but with infinite 
tenderness and pity, upon helping him along." 

The fine unconscious humor of this sugges- 
tion ought to put everybody in a good temper, 
and clear the air with a hearty laugh. But 
the desire to lead other people rather than to 
control one's self, though not often so naively 
stated, is by no means new in the history of 
morals. It must have fallen many times under 
the observation of Thomas a Kempis before he 
wrote this gentle word of reproof. " In judg- 
ing others a man usually toileth in vain. For 
the most part he is mistaken, and he easily 
sinneth. But in judging and scrutinizing him- 
self, he always laboreth with profit." 

And, indeed, though it be true that in civil- 
ized communities a larger proportion of wo- 
men than of men live lives of cleanliness and 
self-restraint, yet it should be remembered that 
the great leaders of spiritual thought, the 
great reformers of minds and morals, have in- 
variably been men. All that is best in word 
and example, all that is upholding, stimulating, 


purifying, and strenuous has been the gift of 
these faltering creatures, whom we are now 
invited to take in hand, and conduct with 
" tenderness and pity " on their paths. It 
might also be worth while to remind ourselves 
occasionally that although we women may be 
destined to do the work of the future, men 
have done the work of the past, and have 
struggled not altogether in vain, for the phy- 
sical and intellectual welfare of w the world. 
This is a point which is sometimes ignored in 
a very masterly manner. Eliza Burt Gamble 
who has written a book on " The Evolution of 
Woman. An Inquiry into the Dogma of her 
Inferiority to Man," is exceedingly severe on 
theologians, priests, and missionaries, by whom 
she considers our sex has been held in subjec- 
tion. She lays great stress on certain material 
facts, as, for example, the excess of male births 
in times of war, famine, or pestilence ; and the 
excess of female births in periods of peace 
and plenty, when better nutrition brings about 
this higher and happier result. She asserts 
that there are more male than female idiots, 
and that reversions to a lower type are more 
common among men than women. She has a 


great deal to say about the ancient custom of 
wife-capture as a token of female superiority, 
and about the supremacy of woman in all 
primitive and prehistoric life, a supremacy 
founded upon her finer organization, and upon 
the altruistic principles which rule her con- 
duct. But even in this spirited and elaborate 
argument no attempt is made to put side by 
side the work of woman and of man ; no com- 
parison is offered of their relative contri- 
butions to civilization, social progress, art, 
science, literature, music, or religion. Yet 
these are the tests by which preeminence is 
judged, and to ignore them is to confess a 
failure. " If you wish me to believe that you 
are witty, I must really trouble you to make a 
joke." If you are better than the workers of 
the world, show me the fruits of your labor. 

Against this reasonable demand it is urged 
that never in the past, or at least never since 
those pleasant primitive days, of which, un- 
happily, no distinct record has been preserved, 
have women been permitted free scope for 
their abilities. They have been kept down 
by the tyranny of men, and have afforded 
through all the centuries a living proof that 


the strong and good can be ruled by the weak 
and bad, physical force alone having given to 
man the mastery. It was reserved for our 
generation to straighten this tangled web, and 
to assign to each sex its proper limits and 
qualifications. The greatest change the world 
has ever seen is taking place to-day. 

" However full the air may be of other 
sounds," said a recent lecturer on this subject, 
" the cry that rises highest and swells the 
loudest comes from the throats of women who 
in the last years of the nineteenth century of 
the Christian era are just beginning to live. 
Men cannot appreciate this as we do. From 
time out of mind they have used their brains 
and their instincts as they chose, and they can- 
not understand the ecstacy we feel as we 
stretch the limbs which have been cramped so 
long. What does it matter if they do not? 
One thing is sure. New wine is not put into 
old bottles. The village that has become a 
city does not return to its villageship. The 
man does not put on the child's garments 
again. So, whether men hate us or love us, 
we have outgrown the cage in which we sang. 
The woman of the past is dead." 


It is not highly probable that universal hate 
will ever supplant that older emotion which 
must be held responsible for the existence and 
the circumstances of human life. But u the 
woman of the past " is a broad term, and ad- 
mits of a good deal of variety, The chaste 
Susanna and Potiphar's wife ; Cornelia and 
Messalina; Jeanne d'Arc and Madame de 
Pompadour ; Hannah More and Aphra Behn, 
these are divergent types, and the singing 
bird in her cage does not stand very distinctly 
for any of them. Humanity is a large factor, 
and must be taken into serious account before 
we assure ourselves too confidently that the 
old order is passing away. For good or for 
ill, women have lived their lives with some ap- 
proach to entirety during the slow progress of 
the ages. It can hardly be claimed that either 
Cleopatra or St. Theresa was cjamped by con- 
finement out of her broadest and amplest de- 

Even if a radical change is imminent, there 
is no reason to be so fiercely contentious about 
it. Let us remember Dr. Watts, and be paci- 
fied. Our little hands were never made to 
tear each other's eyes. It is possible surely to 



plead for female suffrage without saying spite- 
ful and sarcastic things about men, especially 
as it is not their opposition, but the listless 
indifference of our own sex, which stands be- 
tween the eager advocate and her vote. There 
is still less propriety in permitting this angry 
sentiment to bias our conceptions of morality, 
and we pay but a poor tribute to woman in 
assuming that she should be privileged to sin. 
The damnation of Faust and the apotheosis of 
Margaret make one of the most effective of 
stage illusions ; but it is not a safe guide to 
practical rectitude, and we might do well to 
remember that it is not Goethe's final solution 
of the problem. In our vehement reaction 
from the stringent rules of the past, we are 
now assuming that the seven deadly sins grow 
less malignant in woman's hands, and that she 
can shift the burden of moral responsibility 
to the shoulders of that arch offender, man. 
The shameful evidence of the courts is bandied 
about in social circles, and made the subject- 
matter of denunciatory rhetoric on the part 
of those whom self-respect should silence. It 
does not strengthen one's confidence in the 
future, to see the present lack of moderation 


and sanity in people who are going to reform 
the world. When wives and mothers meet to 
denounce with bitter eloquence the immorality 
of men, and then ask contributions for a mon- 
ument to Mary Wollstonecraft, " who suffered 
social martyrdom in England a hundred years 
ago, for advocating the rights of woman," one 
feels a little puzzled as to the mental attitude 
of these impetuous creatures. A sense of hu- 
mor would save us from many discouraging 
outbreaks, but humor is not a common attri- 
bute of reformers. It is the peace-maker of 
the world, and this is the day of contentions. 


It is the curious custom of modern men of 
letters to talk to the world a great deal about 
their work ; to explain its conditions, to up- 
hold its value, to protest against adverse criti- 
cism, and to interpret the needs and aspirations 
of mankind through the narrow medium of 
their own resources. A good many years have 
passed since Mr. Arnold noticed the grow- 
ing tendency to express the very ordinary de- 
sires of very ordinary people by such imposing 
phrases as "laws of human progress" and 
" edicts of the national mind." To-day, if a new 
story or a new play meets with unusual appro- 
bation, it is at once attributed to some sudden 
mental development of society, to some distinct 
change in our methods of regarding existence. 
We are assured without hesitation that all 
stories and all plays in the near future will be 
built up upon these favored models. 

To a few of us, perhaps, such prophetic 
voices have but a dismal ring. We listen to 


their repeated cry, " The old order passeth 
away," and we are sorry in our hearts, having 
loved it well for years, and feeling no absolute 
confidence in its successor. Then some %ie 
afternoon we look abroad, and are amazed to 
see so much of the old order still remaining, 
and apparently disinclined to pass away, even 
when it is told plainly to go. How many 
times have we been warned that poetry is 
shaking off its shackles, and that rhyme and 
rhythm have had their little day ? Yet now, 
as in the past, poets are dancing cheerfully 
in fetters, with a harmonious sound which is 
most agreeable to our ears. How many times 
have we been told that Sir Walter Scott's 
novels are dead, stone dead ; that their grave 
has been dug, and their epitaph written ? 
Yet new and beautiful editions are folio wing- 
each other so rapidly from the press, that the 
most ardent enthusiast wonders wistfully who 
are the happy men with money enough to buy 
them. How many times have we been assured 
that realistic and psychological fiction has sup- 
planted its gay brother of romance ? Yet 
never was there a day when writers of roman- 
tic stories sprang so rapidly and so easily into 


fame. Stevenson leads the line, but Conan 
Doyle and Stanley Weyman follow close be- 
hind; while as for Mr. Eider Haggard, he 
is^a problem which defies any reasonable 
solution. The fabulous prices paid by syndi- 
cates for his tales, the thousands of readers 
who wait breathlessly from week to week for 
the carefully doled-out chapters, the humiliat- 
ing fact that " She" is as well known through- 
out two continents as " Robert Elsmere," — 
these uncontrovertible witnesses of success 
would seem to indicate that what people really 
hunger for is not realism, nor sober truthful- 
ness, but the maddest and wildest impossibili- 
ties which the human brain is capable of con- 

And so when I am told, among other pro- 
phetic items, that the " light essay " is pass- 
ing rapidly away, and that, in view of its ap- 
proaching death-bed, it cannot be safely recom- 
mended as " a good opening for enterprise," I 
am fain, before acquiescing gloomily in such 
a decree, to take heart of grace, and look a 
little around me. It is discouraging, doubt- 
less, for the essayist to be suddenly informed 
that his work is in articulo mortis. He feels 


as a carpenter might feel were he told that 
chairs and doors and tables are going out 
of fashion, and that he had better turn his 
attention to mining engineering, or a new^ food 
for infants. Perhaps he endeavors to explain 
that a great many chairs were sold in the 
past week, that they are not without utility, 
and that they seem to him as much in favor 
as ever. Such feeble arguments meet with 
no response. Furniture, he is assured, — on 
the authority of the speaker, — is distinctly out 
of date. The spirit of the time calls for some- 
thing different, and the " best business talent " 
— delightful phrase, and equally applicable 
to a window-frame or an epic — is moving in 
another direction. This is what Mr. Lowell 
used to call the conclusive style of judgment, 
" which consists simply in belonging to the 
other parish ; r but parish boundaries are the 
same convincing things now that they were 
forty years ago. 

Is the essay, then, in such immediate and 
distressing danger? Is it unwritten, unpub- 
lished, or unread? Just ten years have 
passed since a well-printed little book was 
offered carelessly to the great English public. 


It was anonymous. It was hampered by a 
Latin title which attracted the few and 
repelled the many. It contained seven of the 
very lightest essays that ever glided into print. 
It grappled with no problems, social or spirit- 
ual ; it touched but one of the vital issues of 
the day. It was not serious, and it was not 
written with any very definite view, save to 
give entertainment and pleasure to its readers. 
By all the laws of modern mentors, it should 
have been consigned to speedy and merited 
oblivion. Yet what happened ? I chanced to 
see that book within a few months of its pub- 
lication, and sent at once to London for a 
copy, thinking to easily secure a first edition. 
I received a fourth, and, with it, the comfort- 
ing assurance that the first was already 
commanding a heavy premium. In another 
week the American reprints of u Obiter Dicta " 
lay on all the book counters of our land. The 
author's name was given to the world. A 
second volume of essays followed the first ; a 
third, the second ; a fourth, the third. The 
last are so exceedingly light as to be little 
more than brief notices and reviews. All 
have sold well, and Mr. Birrell has established 


— surely with no great effort — his reputation 
as a man of letters. Editors of magazines are 
glad to print his work : readers of magazines 
are glad to see it ; newspapers are delighted 
when they have any personal gossip about the 
author to tell a curious world. This is what 
u the best business talent " must call success, 
for these are the tests by which it is accus- 
tomed to judge. The light essay has a great 
deal of hardihood to flaunt and flourish in 
this shameless manner, when it has been 
severely warned that it is not in accord with 
the spirit of the age, and that its day is on the 

It is curious, too, to see how new and 
charming editions of " Virginibus Puerisque " 
meet with a ready sale. Mr. Stevenson has 
done better work than in this volume of scat- 
tered papers, which are more suggestive than 
satisfactory ; yet there are always readers 
ready to exult over the valorous " Admirals," 
or dream away a glad half -hour to the seduc- 
tive music of " Pan's Pipes." Mr. Lang's 
" Essays in Little " and " Letters to Dead 
Authors " have reached thousands of people 
who have never read his admirable translations 


from the Greek. Mr. Pater's essays — which, 
however, are not light — are far better known 
than his beautiful "Marius the Epicurean." 
Lamb's "Elia" is more widely read than are 
his letters, though it would seem a heart-break- 
ing matter to choose between them. Hazlitt's 
essays are still rich mines of pleasure, as well 
as fine correctives for much modern nonsense. 
The first series of Mr. Arnold's " Essays in 
Criticism " remains his most popular book, and 
the one which has done more than all the rest 
to show the great half -educated public what is 
meant by distinction of mind. Indeed, there 
never was a day when by-roads to culture were 
more diligently sought for than now by people 
disinclined for long travel or much toil, and 
the essay is the smoothest little path which 
runs in that direction. It offers no instruc- 
tion, save through the medium of enjoyment, 
and one saunters lazily along with a charming 
unconsciousness of effort. Great results are 
not to be gained in this fashion, but it should 
sometimes be play-hour for us all. Moreover, 
there are still readers keenly alive to the plea- 
sure which literary art can give ; and the essay- 
ists, from Addison down to Mr. Arnold and 


Mr. Pater, have recognized the value of form, 
the powerful and persuasive eloquence of style. 
Consequently, an appreciation of the essay is 
the natural result of reading ifc. Like virtue, 
it is its own reward. " Culture," says Mr. 
Addington Symonds, " makes a man to be 
something. It does not teach him to create 
anything." Most of us in this busy world are 
far more interested in what we can learn to do 
than in what we can hope to become : but it 
may be that those who content themselves 
with strengthening their ow r n faculties, and 
broadening their own sympathies for all that 
is finest and best, are of greater service to 
their tired and downcast neighbors than are 
the unwearied toilers who urge us so relent- 
lessly to the field. 

A few critics of an especially judicial turn 
are w r ont to assure us now and then that the 
essay ended with Emerson, or with Sainte- 
Beuve, or with Addison, or with Montaigne, — 
a more remote date than this being inaccessi- 
ble, unless, like Eve in the old riddle, it died 
before it was born. Montaigne is commonly 
selected as the idol of this exclusive worship. 
" I don't care for any essayist later than Mon- 


taigne." It has a classic sound, and the same 
air of intellectual discrimination as another 
very popular remark : " I don't read any mod- 
ern novelist, except George Meredith." Hear- 
ing these verdicts, one is tempted to say, with 
Marianne Dashwood, " This is admiration of 
a very particular kind." To minds of a more 
commonplace order, it would seem that a love 
for Montaigne should lead insensibly to an 
appreciation of Sainte-Beuve ; that an appre- 
ciation of Sainte-Beuve awakens in turn a 
sympathy for Mr. Matthew Arnold ; that a 
sympathy for Mr. Arnold paves the way to a 
keen enjoyment of Mr. Emerson or Mr. Pater. 
It is a linked chain, and, though all parts are 
not of equal strength and beauty, all are of 
service to the whole. " Let neither the pecu- 
liar quality of anything nor its value escape 
thee," counsels Marcus Aurelius ; and if we 
seek our profit wherever it may be found, we 
insensibly acquire that which is needful for 
our growth. Under any circumstances, it is 
seldom wise to confuse the preferences or 
prejudices of a portion of mankind with the 
irresistible progress of the ages. Rhymes 
may go, but they are with us still. Romantic 


fiction may be submerged, but at present it is 
well above water. The essay may die, but 
just now it possesses a lively and encouraging 
vitality. Whether we regard it as a means 
of culture or as a field for the " best business 
talent," we are fain to remark, in the words 
of Sancho Panza, "This youth, considering 
his weak state, hath left in him an amazing 
power of speech." 

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